THE owners of an independent book shop who have refused to close during lockdown have been given a fourth fine of £10,000 to add to their previous fines of £1,000 (two), £2,000 and £4,000, making a total of £18,000.
Alasdair and Lydia Walker-Cox argue that their shop, which also sells cards, newspapers and confectionery, is offering the same goods as supermarkets which are allowed to open. They have told TCW that they have not paid the fines and are prepared to go to court.
Lydia opened Grace Cards and Books in Droitwich, Worcestershire, 30 years ago with her father. They ran it together until her marriage and the family of seven children that followed, while husband Alasdair gave up his job to work with her father. Since her father’s retirement five years ago she became more involved in the running of the business again.
As for any independent town centre retailers, it has been a struggle to survive. Then came Covid.
From the very beginning last March when the country first heard of the strange concept of “locking down” in response to a new virus, the couple thought it was an over-reaction: ‘We were of the opinion that the virus would still be around to deal with once everyone came out of the three-week “to flatten the curve” period of time. Here we are almost a year later!’
The couple added confectionery, papers and drinks to their range to try to earn the ‘essential’ tag. When a second lockdown was announced just before Christmas they were dismayed.
‘We had thousands of pounds of Christmas stock to sell and the Government weren’t offering enough to even cover our rent. Also, we had no idea if that would be the last lockdown or whether there would be more to follow. We knew we would have to fight for survival rather than sit back, take what money the Government was handing out, and watch our business slowly die.’
Mrs Walker-Cox finds it difficult to understand why other businesses have been willing to allow the Government to destroy their livelihoods. She hopes that with their stand they are sending a message far and wide that it is possible to fight back.
‘The trade-off of locking down a population, as we have seen over the last year, has been far too great a price to pay. Other untreated medical conditions, mental health problems and a decimated economy are a few of the prices we will be paying for a long time to come.’
Support she says has flowed in from all over the place. ‘People have contacted us by email, post and phone from all over the UK and even abroad. It has been very touching to hear people genuinely taking strength from our stand to stay open. But more heart-warming than anything else is all the local support we’ve had from customers in the locality. Almost every other customer is commending us for staying open and continuing to fight for the survival of our business. As regards criticism, my husband and I are not into social media so are untouched by negativity from that sector. We’ve had, possibly, a handful of unpleasant words in our hearing, but not much more than that.’
Wychavon district council has argued that as the core of the business was selling cards, gifts, and other non-essential items it had to close but that it could continue to trade online and offer a delivery service.
Council leader Bradley Thomas said: ‘The vast majority of our traders are following the rules because they want to play their part in bringing infections down to help protect our NHS and save lives.
‘It’s disappointing this one particular business feels the need to flout the rules and we will work with our partners to take further action, if needed, to protect the public.
‘We have a plan to support businesses to rebuild once this pandemic is over. That day will come much faster if we all follow the rules and help get back on top of this virus.’