How Do You Move A Bookstore? With A Human Chain, Book By Book

When October Books, a small radical bookshop in Southampton, England, was moving to a new location down the street, it faced a problem. How could it move its entire stock to the new spot, without spending a lot of money or closing down for long?

The shop came up with a clever solution: They put out a call for volunteers to act as a human conveyor belt.

As they prepared to "lift and shift" on Sunday, they expected perhaps 100 people to help.

"But on the day, we had over 200 people turn out, which was a sight to behold," Amy Brown, one of the shop's five part-time staff members, told NPR.

Shoulder to shoulder, community members formed a line 500 feet long: from the stockroom of the old shop, down the sidewalk, and onto the shop floor of the new store.

Cafes brought cups of tea to the volunteers. People at bus stops joined in. Passersby asked what was happening, then joined the chain themselves.

"We had elderly people, children, and everybody in between," Brown said.

When the great bookchain began, she was in the stockroom. "I was handing books to people without actually seeing the entire of it. So it was only after about 20 minutes I actually go out into the road and saw the extent of the people," she said.

October Books, founded in 1977, calls itself "more than a bookshop." It sells political and current affairs books, fiction and children's books, and and some food and fair-trade products.

But as it struggled to pay rising rents, it had launched a campaign over the summer to raise $400,000 to buy a space of its own: an old bank building. And raise it they did, through donations, crowdfunding, and people who donated money as "loanstock" — the shop will repay them the money that they've lent after one, five, or 10 years depending the loan terms.

"There's been people who've been visiting us and buying books from us for 40 years" as the store has moved around the city numerous times, Brown said. "So a lot of people feel quite invested in it as a thing."

And in just one hour on Sunday, the community passed more than 2,000 books, hand to hand, to the new shop.

"It was really sort of surprising and positive, and just a really moving experience to see people chipping in because they wanted to help. And they wanted to be part of something bigger," Brown said.

Meanwhile, the bookshop's new location is being painted and built out. And Brown says she currently is surrounded by boxes and bits of broken-up furniture.

There's a lot to get ready for the shop's next chapter. The new, permanent location of October Books has its grand opening on Saturday.

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