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October is the New December: Start Your Holiday Shopping Now!

Claire Handscombe


Claire Handscombe moved from Europe to DC in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but actually – let’s be honest – because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan, and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives. She also hosts the Brit Lit Podcast, a fortnightly show of news and views from British books and publishing. Blog: the Brit Lit Blog. Twitter: @BookishClaire

October, for me, is all about beautiful light and crunching leaves under my feet, adding cardigans back into my wardrobe, and the still relatively new school year full of hope and resolutions. I believe in enjoying each season in its turn and not constantly rushing onto the next thing. If anyone tries to play Christmas music around me before Thanksgiving, I give them a glare that could roast a turkey.

But, this year, with regards to this as to so many things, I’m having to adjust — and if we want our favourite small businesses to survive, we all have to. If you’re buying books, or just wanting to support bookshops so that they make it through this year, please think about starting now.

Here’s why.

Shorter Queues

When you’re shopping for gifts, it’s often helpful to be able to browse and to ask staff for recommendations. While many bookshops are open to customers now, there are often limits on the number of people they can have inside. That often means you’ll have to queue as you wait your turn. The closer it gets to the of the year, the longer that queue will be — and the colder it’ll be outside as you wait.

Less Rushed Browsing

To help shorten those waits, some shops are currently implementing time limits on browsing. But I know at least one bookseller (me) who’s a lot less strict about that limit on a Thursday in October than she will have to be on, say, 20 December.

Sneaking in Some Free Gift Wrap While You Can

At the bookshop where I work, we’ve always proudly and happily done complimentary gift wrapping for our customers. But this year, what with wanting to get people in and out of the shop as quickly as we can, and our staff running around doing extra tasks like locking and unlocking the door to make sure we don’t exceed capacity, we will have to stop wrapping gifts at some point in the next few weeks. On days when the shop is still relatively quiet, though, we’re still helping people where we can.

Printing Shortages

In the U.S., two printing companies have declared bankruptcy. That likely means books will get smaller print runs, and will take longer to restock when a book does run out — adding days or weeks onto the wait for a particular book.

Mail Delays

The United States Postal Service is under severe strain and deliveries are taking longer, which impacts how long it takes for bookshops to receive your special orders. In the UK and elsewhere, it is quite possible the post will also have issues this year as more people order online and more people choose to send gifts to family rather than taking them in person.

Coronavirus Risks

If any staff members get sick or have to quarantine or look after a sick family member, that impacts every aspect of a small business and can slow things down. And the sad truth is, nobody knows what will happen to COVID-19 numbers, and if we will have to shut everything down again this winter, and when and for how long. Remember how we all stocked up on toilet paper? Do that, but for books.

General Unpredictability

So much of this is unpredictable, and while bookshops are doing all they can to prepare, there is so much they can’t control. There are other ways you can help support your favourite bookshop: you can buy gift cards, use, or buy audiobook gift memberships from (who, full disclaimer, employ me, though they haven’t asked me to say this!). This year, a 12-month audiobook gift card will net a bookshop $90.

But the very best way you can help is to shop early. Your booksellers will be so grateful to you — and, in January, when they’re still open, you’ll be grateful to past you, too.

Get to know the realities of independent bookstores by digging into tips for how to support indie bookstores right now, indie bookstores to shop while at home, and how it is that indie bookstores fought their way back.