Local bookshop owners in Groningen who were recently freed from the financial and personal burdens that came with the Covid-19 pandemic are now feeling the pressures of record inflation and a worsening energy crisis.
In September, inflation in the Netherlands was the highest in the E.U. with a record rate of 12% according to Statistics Netherlands.
Despite facing the challenges of industry decline and an unprecedented global pandemic in recent years, Godert Walter’s, an 80-year-old bookstore opened a second outlet in the centre of Groningen this past July.
For Godert Walter’s, like many other local businesses who were forced to close their doors during the pandemic, it was a heavy shift to E-Commerce that has largely kept them afloat since 2020.
Walter De Vries, who has jointly owned the store with Allard Steenbergan since 2014, credited the store’s survival during the pandemic and its success afterwards to this diversification of their business model.
“During the first lockdown, we were not allowed to accept any customers into the shop. So, from the end of 2020 until March or April 2021 we had to send every book”, Walter recounts.
“We had to send them either here in (Groningen) by bicycle or (elsewhere) by currier…we had done this before (the pandemic) but not that much, so it was really increasing a lot… Orders were coming in by Email, telephone, even by postcard” and “(the web shop) was really exploding”, Walter explains.
Now through a combination of online and in-store sales the shop sells more books than ever before. Despite increased sales however net profits are being stifled by inflation, the rising costs of energy, and deliveries fees which have left overall gains no greater than before the pandemic.
Clearly, no amount of business remodelling will spare businesses like this from the reality of rising costs.
Walter explains that prices “have went up a little until now” with increases in paper prices and in currier services having generally been “moderate” but that he expects prices to rise 10%-15% in the next six months.
“(However) a (bigger) problem will be energy; I don’t know how much the heating will be, but it will really be a problem in both shops and what the effect will be I can’t tell you”, Walter adds.
Theo Butterhof, owner of Antiquariaat ISIS, Groningen’s largest antiquarian bookstore, echoed that sense of uncertainty over growing costs: “A lot of small companies are closing with the prices of things like gas rising the way they are” and “no one knows where this will all end”.
With a leaked draft E.U. regulation, reported in The Guardian on Tuesday, indicating that no coordinated price caps on Russian gas or gas imports will be implemented this winter, it’s clear that an end to rising energy prices is unlikely to come soon.
In August the Dutch government announced a €16 billion plan to help combat inflation it will only be implemented in 2023 which for many businesses may be too far afield and ultimately not enough.