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Booksellers prevail in French row over Covid sales

·2-min read

French supermarkets, which remain open during a second coronavirus lockdown, will be barred from selling books, make-up and other goods found in smaller shops that have been forced to shut, the government said Monday.

The announcement was aimed at appeasing the anger of small traders forced to shut up shop for a second time this year during what is usually a busy time for retailers in the run-up to the year-end holidays.

"Supermarkets will be banned from stocking goods that could be sold by small stores," the junior minister for small businesses, Alain Griset, told France Info radio.

Owners of bookshops and other specialist outlets had complained bitterly that the month-long lockdown that came into effect on Friday to curb a second wave of infections discriminated against small traders already struggling to survive.

They pointed out that supermarket chains, which have been allowed remain open to ensure supplies of essential goods, continue to do a brisk trade in non-essential items such as books and toys.

Several well-known writers and critics rallied in defence of booksellers in particular, arguing that books should be considered essential for citizens' mental health.

The campaign elicited a sympathetic response from the mayors of several small towns who issued decrees allowing specialist shops to continue trading in defiance of the lockdown.

To defuse the row, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Sunday that supermarkets would from Tuesday be barred from stocking goods found in specialist shops.

He did not give details of which goods would be withdrawn but Griset said that supermarkets would, for example, be allowed sell hygiene products but not make-up.

Small traders in France and around the world remain concerned, however, about the competition from online platforms such as Amazon which has forecast record fourth-quarter sales on the back of a pandemic-related surge in online shopping.

Griset urged the French to support local business once the lockdown is lifted "to allow them to recoup their losses."

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire has also raised the prospect of allowing small shops to reopen on November 12, half-way through the lockdown, if the spread of Covid-19 is tempered.

cb/mlr/rl