Amandine Ardouin: a bookseller brimming with passion and fighting spirit

Photography : Photokiff - Text : Elisabeth Grosdhomme
Amandine Ardouin BAT

Why would anyone want to become a bookseller at a time when e-commerce is ceaselessly taking market shares away from the shop around the corner ? Because they love books of course, but first and foremost because they love people.

Amandine Ardouin threw herself into the adventure in 2008, at just 23 years old, taking over the management and then acquiring the Saint-Pierre bookshop in Senlis. Half by family tradition (her father was a bookseller in Crépy-en-Valois and she has always lived surrounded by books); half for the sake of taking up the challenge « to see if I could make it ». Her delight is to hear clients exchange recommendations while rummaging through the shelves, to talk with them, understand their tastes and have them discover new authors, to see them getting out of the bookshop with a large smile, taking back home a book they chose like the promise of a dream, of laughter, emotion and chills, even though they might have entered, a few minutes before, carrying the weight of their worries, large and small.

Reading is sharing, comparing your impressions with others, recommending to them your favourites, and conversely taking interest in the works they like. In her bookshop, Amandine sees a lot of readers come through : some pressed by time and some who take their time, some who know precisely what they want and some who follow the bookseller’s suggestions, some who come to buy and some who come to talk.

All well and good, but being a bookseller is not only reading books all day long behind a counter or talking to people. It is also about handling loads: each week, around sixty boxes of books that need to be received, checked and signed for, unpacked and shelved; up to a hundred and twenty boxes at the start of the literary season, twice a year in September and January. Then two months later, putting the unsold volumes back in the boxes and returning them to the distributor.

Being a bookseller is also being an entrepreneur and a merchant: dealing with bills, loan instalments and salaries to be paid at the end of the month. When she took over the management of the bookshop, Amandine was aware of the global economy’s sluggishness and the aggressive competition of online commerce, but she thought that it was only a matter of time before things improve: that economic growth would return; that people would grow tired of a disembodied, impersonal shopping experience and would sooner or later come back to physical shops; that she only needed to hold out long enough and make sure to relentlessly provide clients with a warm welcome, good advice and smooth service.

A few years later, the good days have yet to return. So Amandine went out of her bookshop and decided to join the local shopkeepers’ association, of which she has become the vice-president. Because in their fight against massive online merchants, local retailers will succeed together or not at all.

Will this battle be won? It is too early to tell but Amandine is not the type to sit back and give up. She has projects for her bookshop: organising meet-ups with authors; developing the detective novel section of her book offering, to match readers’ appetite for this type of literature; exploring the possibilities of selling online. Meanwhile, she considers that the trials we go through, much like the books we read, make us grow. And she remembers the title of the novel which left the biggest mark on her in the last few years : « Je vais mieux » (« I am feeling better ») by David Foenkinos.

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