The Big Green Bookshop
The Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green opened in March 2008 following the closure of a Waterstones branch where Tim and Simon, the co-owners, had previously worked.
The closure had not been anticipated because, as Tim explained to me, the branch had just enjoyed one of its best sales periods with Tim and Simon sharing an unexpectedly handsome bonus. But just a couple of months later they received the call from their area manager telling them the store, along with a couple of other sites, was to be sold to a high street clothing chain.
Using their redundancy money, Tim and Simon decided to set up in business and the Big Green Bookshop was born.
The preparation and grand opening of the shop has been preserved on video:
The spirit of community participation in, and voluntary support for, the shop continues to this day, with the premises being used after-hours as a meeting centre by countless groups, not to mention the many organised one-off events, including very popular comedy nights, where the shop can host up to 70 standing guests.
Over and above that the shop has supporters who are willing to step in and man the till at short notice if required and, because neither Tim nor Simon can drive, they rely upon the goodwill of ‘a man with a van’ (namely Mark White, aka Marky Market to move books to and from outside events.
Tim, it seems, is very much the public face of the business. Listening to him ramble amiably from one topic to the next reminded me in a way of listening to John Peel. He can talk without notes in front of large audiences and so is often booked to appear on platforms at conferences. On the occasion of one such booking, when asked if he could forward his Powerpoint presentation ahead of the actual event, Tim told the person on the other end of the phone, “Oh no, I don’t prepare anything!” There was a sharp intake of breath and a few days later a request that, rather than giving a talk, could he be interviewed on stage. “You don’t trust me do you?” Tim good-naturedly responded. “I really can talk for 20 minutes about the subject you’ve given me.”
That’s an understatement. I’m rather sure that Tim could talk for **two hundred** minutes about any subject you care to name.
On the day of my visit Simon, who is also the person who tweets and blogs on behalf of the business, was in Birmingham attending – if I am not mistaken – Cake International – the Sugarcraft, Cake Decorating & Baking Show, where he was hoping to sell hundreds of signed copies of an expensive coffee table book. Last month, Big Green Bookshop was the official bookseller at the Cake & Bake Show, Earls Court. I recommend reading the blog post all about this, and in particular how a small bookshop was able to acquire the amount of stock needed to serve such a big occasion.
To begin with I thought the metal mop-bucket in the window was a an avant-garde window display and began to frame my camera. I soon realised, on looking up and seeing the stained ceiling tile, that it was there for the very practical purpose of catching a leak from the roof.
The door of the shop was being left wide open, despite the time of year and lateness in the day, to help rid the shop of the smell of damp. The window area was not the only part of the shop that had suffered leakage.
I imagine it won’t be long till friends with the right skills or connections rally round to make the shop weatherproof once again.
For most of the time that Tim is talking to me he is multi-tasking, much of it spent on his knees, opening boxes, checking titles against the delivery sheet and putting them in piles corresponding with different customer orders.
When the piles reach the counter and get rubber-banded-up I notice, amongst the brand-new titles, a couple of clearly aged paperbacks. The shop is happy to source second-hand books for customers, and has a small section of its own second-hand stock, priced at just £1 (cheaper than many a charity store).
“To keep the books circulating,” Tim tells me, “we put some outside on warm days and let them go for 50p.”
The shop has an ingenious way of signposting its different sections. Small rectangles of blackboard have been screwed above each vertical shelving bay, with the title of the current contents written on in chalk.
This was Tim’s own brainwave. Once he’d come up with it, Simon badgered and badgered him to get the bits of blackboard made, even asking him if he’d spent his day off doing so. I imagine Simon’s version of this might be somewhat different.
One of the shop’s regular customers came in to buy a book for her son’s fifteenth birthday. She really wanted Grapes Of Wrath, but Tim only had Of Mice And Men so suggested Catcher In The Rye or On The Road. She didn’t feel her son was quite ready for On The Road. In the end I think they settled on 1984.
One of the orders being prepared for customer collection is a stack of books by Guy Bass, an author ACHUKA had been woefully ignorant of up till now.
If you fancy visiting the shop, it’s easy to find – just off Wood Green High Road, in between Wood Green and Turnpike Lane underground stations (slightly nearer the latter) on the Piccadilly line.
Recently the business has branched out into selling toys. When I first heard about this I assumed the toyshop was also in Wood Green, but in fact Tuffet’s Toys and Tales is in Brookman’s Park, Hertfordshire, which is where Simon moved out to after the birth of his second child, when his central London flat became too cramped.
He was already working several days from home. So he now spends that time working in the toyshop.
One of the shop’s special sections is for books published by Small Presses. There is a blog post that explains the business principle on which this display is based. I was slightly shocked at first to find that small publishers were having to pay Big Green Bookshop up front to stock their books (£1.50 per title) but the more I thought about it the more it made good (small) business sense.l
Towards the end of my visit Tim told me that it was his current ambition to secure a Patron of Reading in every school in the London borough of Haringey and – like the good businessman he is – he has some clear ideas about how this could be funded and, of course, how the shop could be involved in terms of providing reading matter.
Behind the counter 🙂
A leaking roof aside, I get the feeling Wood Green is going to enjoy the benefits of having its very own independent bookshop for a good time to come.