Moscow (AFP)

Boris Kouprianov was cut in his tracks. Before the measures against the new coronavirus forced him to close his independent bookstore in Moscow, the latter was in full swing and had just moved into new premises.

Lumberjack shirt and ring in his left ear, the 47-year-old publisher and bookseller is preparing his store for reopening on Monday, thanks to a reduction in containment measures in the Russian capital.

At the entrance to the Falanster cooperative bookstore, located on Tverskaya Street, in the city center, boxes of new deliveries are strewn across the floor and a container of disinfectant has been fixed to the wall while waiting for customers.

He tells of "the catastrophe" that has befallen his bookstore.

Despite its popularity, nothing prepared it for this crisis: "the turnover was divided by three" and was even "reduced to zero" at first, before the team organized.

In Moscow, which accounts for a significant part of the more than 396,000 cases of Covid-19 contamination identified so far in Russia, non-essential businesses such as bookstores have been forced to close for more than two months.

From the start of the containment, the blow was hard for Russian companies, forced by the authorities to maintain wages, a mission impossible especially for SMEs, many of which had to lay off.

This crisis, combined with the fall in the price of oil, is a blow to the Russian economy, the government predicting a fall in GDP of 9.5% in the second quarter and 5% over the year.

Little consolation for Falanster: following in the footsteps of online commerce, which exploded, the bookstore developed its presence on the internet and started deliveries.

"We have never had a website or delivery service," says Kouprianov, running his hand through his beard of pepper and salt. Then the bookseller began to deliver the books himself, describing the tiredness in the evening after twenty deliveries, but also the surprise and the pleasure of the customers to see the "boss" arriving in person.

"I started to look at our friends and customers in a completely different way. We just couldn't have survived without their help," says Boris Kouprianov.

- Boss deliveries -

The bookseller crisis affects publishers: "We did not pay publishers for the books we sold in April," said Kouprianov, predicting that it will take two or three months to return to normal. and settle accounts.

"We do not feel the general support of the state, we feel the support of our community," said the bookseller, while expressing appreciation for the government's tax deferral or tax exemption measures.

A community that has united around the freedom of tone of this bookstore: from sociology to history and literature, the range of its offer is not trivial, also including feminist literature, books in English and books on LGBT themes.

"It is a very serious test and, for many organizations, unfortunately, it has been fatal," concludes the bookseller, who fears that human relations will suffer in the future.

"The big chains were able to get away with setting up deliveries of products online. This saved them. Small stores did not have these possibilities," says Igor Nikolaev, director of the Institute of Analysis. FBK Grant Thornton.

The government's measures, if they were deemed insufficient by many economic players, "were aimed at ensuring that there were as few redundancies as possible".

While the Falanster bookstore was able to make do without layoffs or lower wages, the unemployment rate rose in Russia, from 4.7% in March to 5.8% in April, according to Rosstat.

Igor Nikolayev nevertheless observes that the "massive closings" have been avoided. "The economy has been shocked, but it is alive, it is still able to function," he said.

© 2020 AFP