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Browsing to pass time hurts small retailers amid capacity limits, business owner says

Vanessa Brown and her husband own Brown & Dickson bookstore in London, Ont., and have been booksellers for 20 years. The couple is proud to have a community space for customers to find new reads.

Shopping at a bookstore is an experience all its own, says the owner of London's Brown & Dickson Bookstore

Booksellers Vanessa Brown and Jason Dickson at their Richmond Street store. Brown says shoppers should rethink their habits in the midst of capacity limits. (Supplied by Vanessa Brown)

In a pre-pandemic world, casual browsing in stores was a leisurely activity that increased foot traffic in stores.

However, with recent capacity limits in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, some business owners feel that customers need to rethink their shopping habits to fit the changing world.

Vanessa Brown and her husband, booksellers for 20 years, own Brown & Dickson Bookstore in London, Ont. with the shop serving as a space for community members to find new reads.

Brown told CBC's Afternoon Drive that while she loves having people spend time in her store, she feels that the challenges of capacity limits on already struggling businesses can be overlooked. 

Brown's bookstore has a limit of two customers at a time. Due to this, she's had to turn away potential buyers because of those who are only browsing to pass time, which she says is unfair.

"We encourage people to come in and spend as much time as they can but during capacity restrictions, we have to rethink retail etiquette," she said. 

Courtesy for shop owners and other customers 

Brown said that not only are independent retailers struggling with capacity limits, but customers are also being discouraged from spending too much time indoors, which hurts sales. 

"We're looking at only a handful of people in the store at a time, so that does make it difficult to sell the number of books we need to sell in order to pay all the bills," she said. 

She drew similarities to restaurant etiquette that customers have had to adapt to throughout the pandemic, which is a courtesy that can be extended to retailers as well. 

"If it's a busy Saturday night and there's a big lineup out the door, maybe don't order the extra dessert to be respectful of the people running the businesses we patronize," Brown said. 

She said this can also be similar to walking into a store in a mall a few minutes before closing. 

Local bookstores as an experience 

Vanessa Brown and her husband have owned the bookstore for twenty years, the shop has become a community space. (Brown & Dickson Facebook)

Brown acknowledges that shopping at a local bookstore is an experience all its own. She appreciates the value going to a shop, talking to clerks, and discovering new stories. 

"Sometimes you find books that you didn't even know existed. That's the joy of it all, so of course people should browse!" she said. 

She also believes that customers are doing everything they can to help small businesses by shopping more local and being conscientious of where they spend their money. 

She emphasized that when there's no lineup, people should be free to spend as much time as they'd like browsing, but shoppers should also be considerate to others waiting at the door.

"Be aware that you are actually inhibiting that store owner from making more money and paying their bills, and right now that's a challenge for everyone," said Brown. 

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