About a year after I started working on the floor in the kid’s section at Readings Carlton I looked at the sales of one of my favourite books; I had sold more than 60 copies that year and the author’s backlist had started moving on its own. The previous year it had sold only two copies and looking at those numbers was such a wake-up call to me. I had the power to help keep amazing authors and books from fading away. I have the power to help keep stories alive. That seems kind of magical to me.
ACHUKA was aghast when we picked up news of this bookshop closure via Facebook a couple of days ago. This photo is from our Indie Bookshop Feature #4.
It will be the second time in a month I have had to add “This bookshop is now closed” when the shop closes for good on July 31st, the Kennington Bookshop havnig also recently closed.
Jo De Guia, owner of Victoria Park Books in Hackney, is closing her physical bookshop and will instead supply books at live events.
The bookseller is going to sell books at events through Story Habit, a new initiative launched in partnership with LandSky, the organisers of the Town Hall Tales festival.
De Guia, who owns her bookshop’s building in Hackney, said the retail business had become “too overhead heavy to keep as a physical shop when it could be creating income”.
“Schools, families and booksellers need to work together to help young people access the kind of material that will encourage them to read for themselves, for fun. Especially in diverse areas like EastLondon young people need to be actively helped to develop a reading habit,” she said.
Congratulations to The Book Nook (children’s bookshop in Hove) for being named Children’s Bookseller of the Year in the Bookseller Industry Awards..
A BOOKSELLER is closing his shop in Wallingford after more than three decades following a fall in trade.
Toby English said a noticeable decrease in footfall and takings over the past six years meant he would not be renewing the lease on his shop in St Mary’s Street in the town centre.
He opened his shop in the Lamb Arcade in 1983, then moved 200 yards to St Mary’s Street in 1994.
Grandfather-of-one Mr English, who lives with wife Chris, 58, in Wallingford, said: “Footfall has decreased over the past four to six years so the shop has become an increasingly marginal part of the business.
“Everyone is buying everything off the internet and our internet sales overtook the bookshop about a decade ago.
“When I started out I never envisaged I would be selling books in Wallingford for 32 years.
“We have been at this shop for 21 years and have had a lot of fun engaging with customers and I will miss them, although I will still be selling at book fairs.
“Another lease would run for at least five years and we want to spend more time playing with our one-year-old grandson Noah.”
Mr English said the reduction in footfall, combined with the end of the current lease, led him to decide to close the shop.
Toby English Books has specialised in children’s books, art, architecture, academic books and history.
A half-price sale is now under way, running until Monday, April 20.
Excellent full-length feature on Waterstones MD James Daunt:
UPDATE Summer 2015: This shop has now closed
Kennington Bookshop is owned by Australian Paula Kaplan and managed by Nick Creagh-Osborne. The two of them took over the premises (306-308 on the Kennington Road, previously a DVD/video rental store) some eight years ago, Nick having considerable experience as a bookseller. He was at the Travel Bookshop in Notting Hill for five years, and prior to that had spent several years managing the travel section of Harrods’ Waterstones. He also did a stint at the Marylebone branch of Daunt books. Before book selling his work involved arranging insurance programmes for petrochemical companies. Paula (as well as having owned the Literary Bookshop in Melbourne) had been an investment analyst, so between them they must have considerable business acumen.
The shop sells a mixture of new and second-hand books. Ground-floor level is mainly new books, with a few notable second-hand titles flagged up on display tables and shelves. The basement of the shop is a cosy retreat dedicated to quality rather than antiquarian second-hand books. As recently as three years ago this space had been used purely for storage. Nick tells me that its conversion into selling space was the result of a Eureka moment on Paula’s part, and adds that sales from the basement now represent a significant percentage of the shop’s weekly takings.
The second-hand stock is very keenly priced, so that browsers are unlikely to be put off when they lift the corner of the front jacket. I saw a lot of paperbacks priced at £2.50, so effectively you will be finding books at charity shop prices while browsing a far less random selection (on the contrary one that has been curated by an experienced bookseller).
This is a hardback copy of Laline Paul's novel The Bees, published earlier this year
Paula employs two part time booksellers, Will and George, who make an enormous contribution to the efficient running of the business during the week.
At the time of my visit (in mid-November 2014) the shop windows were displaying Christmas cards and advent calendars as well as books. Nick imports traditional German advent calendars which are much appreciated by local families who can only find modern designs elsewhere. Most customers who come in for a calendar end up buying a book as well. Although, as Nick points out, there is a finite window on this promotion, as come December 1st everyone who wants a calendar will have purchased one.
In common with the other bookshop owners and managers I have spoken to, Nick is appreciative of the efficiency of Gardners and Bertrams which means that the shop can offer an effective alternative to Amazon. Customers can order a book late one afternoon and it should be in the shop for collection the next day. They might not get a discount on the cover price but they won’t have to pay a delivery charge or arrange to be at home waiting for the package to be delivered.
The shop supplies books to several local schools and gets heavily involved in World Book Day. There are lots of mums with young children in the area, which is why the children’s shelves (organised in height order, picture books on the lowest shelf, teenage fiction on the top) are a significant section of the shop.
It’s not the biggest shop I’ve visited but by no means the smallest so I ask if he and Paula have ever been tempted to turn a corner into a place for serving coffee and cake. At this enquiry he opens a door behind the till and we step out into a courtyard at the rear of the shop, which is shared by a neighbouring cafe and other businesses. I can picture the scene on a summer’s day. The door at the back of the shop is left open. Customers make a purchase then go outside and order a coffee and sit at the tables for a chat with fellow customers or to dip into the book just purchased. I really must return in six months time!
Books with local area interest always do well (the shop’s bestseller this Christmas is likely to be Lambeth Past by Hannah Renier) as do books about politics. Paddy Ashdown and Jack Straw both live locally and have held successful signing events in the past.
There is also the Kennington Bookshop Supper Club and authors are often invited to give a talk before (or after) the group enjoys a two or three course meal.
The great joy of browsing in a well-run independent bookshop is that you are drawn to titles you haven’t seen elsewhere. I hope the few photos that illustrate this piece give you the feeling that that will indeed be so, should you care to visit The Kennington Bookshop.
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.
Bags of Books is a small specialist children’s bookshop in Lewes, East Sussex, situated at the far end of the High Street, somewhat on the edge of town but well worth seeking out. Strategically placed advertising boards alert unsuspecting visitors to to the town of its presence.
It was already well-established (the shop first opened in 1985) when Anna Morgan and Gavin Teasdale took over the business towards the end of 2008.
It has changed a lot since the days of previous ownership when, a thriving reputation notwithstanding, it was a rather dark, cramped and higgledy-piggledy affair with a somewhat traditional and intimidating management style established by its original owner, Angela Macpherson. On Angela’s retirement, the shop was briefly owned by Paul and Rachel Waller, who made few changes.
Anna & Gavin met while working for Borders and Books Etc, initially in York and then in London. A year before Borders folded they left to start up in business on their own and initially considered a startup bookshop but then, when they saw that the Bags of Books business was up for sale, the convenience of taking over a readymade shop (combined with a move out of London) proved irresistible.
It was comforting to know they were taking over a business with a very loyal customer base and a healthy line in school orders, an aspect of the shop’s trade they have been at pains to maintain and grow.
For a specialist shop with such a small floorspace it is impressive to learn that Anna and Gavin manage to employ a further three people to complete the bookselling team – Annette, a full-time shop manager, along with Claire (who specialises in links with schools) and Catherine who both work 3 days a week.
In schools they call this ‘distributed leadership’, and it means that Anna and Gavin themselves come across as relaxed and laid-back employers, with Anna’s realm of expertise being the website and online sales, while Gavin is in charge of deliveries and dispatches. And a very tight ship he keeps, with no pileup of unopened boxes in the office space. “Truck to floor in 24” is a mantra he learnt in his time at Borders. No sooner has a delivery from TNT arrived than the box is opened and the books made ready for the shop shelves or dispatch to schools. A write-on/wipe-off wall chart keeps track of the status of various school orders. “Essential,” Gavin tells me, “because very often people on the other end of the phone in a school do not know who has made an order.”
While he’s telling me this, Claire is following up unpaid invoices on the phone.
Earlier Anna had told me that the opening of a Waterstones branch in the centre of the town mid-summer had had as yet no discernible impact on their trade. They had known it was on the cards for quite some time, so to strengthen the service they already offer to schools Anna has developed http://www.bagsofbooklists.com/ an adjunct to the main shop website, where schools can register and order various curated lists with one click, at a minimum discount of 12.5% (discount increases with the total value of each order) – a service which, by virtue of its online nature, is available nationwide and not confined to the shop’s natural catchment area.
Back in 2008 they had arrived on the cusp of Christmas so had decided to live with the shop as it was for a few months before embarking on a total refit. The result, for anyone who remembers the old shop, is amazing. It is still narrow, but the centre is now a bright open space, with lots of playthings for very young children to amuse themselves with while adults browse.
Anna had told me that the bulk of their custom is with families of young children. They have a good range of Young Adult books, and parents purchase older fiction but “not a lot of teenagers come into the shop”. So who should I find up at the far end of the shop when I come through from the office to start taking photographs? A couple of teenage lads talking — initially to Annette and then later to Claire who, with three teenage children of her own, tends to be the shop’s specialist on older fiction — about the Beyond the Edge Chronicles series, which they had enjoyed but were looking to move on.
The shop has a loyalty scheme but has had to discontinue its physical membership cards because people kept losing them. Everything is now tracked on the till, with the calculation based on book numbers rather than the total value of a transaction. For every 12 books purchased customers receive a £5 voucher.
The refit has involved an expansion into what used to be an administrative area of the shop and this has meant more space can be given to non-fiction, which is particularly valued by teachers who come in to browse. Anna acknowledges that this space might have been used for a cafe corner, de rigeur in so many bookshops these days, and is open about the fact that she would rather not have to serve tea and cakes alongside books. She is happy to diversify into child-centred toys and stationery (she particularly likes selling sets of Stabilo crayons) but she doesn’t want to run a cafe.
The shop has a healthy programme of events, running them at a rate of roughly two a month (something Waterstones is highly unlikely to compete with). The shop itself can comfortably fit an audience of between 20 and 25 which is sufficient for all but the events featuring the better-known and more popular names of the children’s books world. On those occasions the shop is able to use a space in the church on the opposite side of the street or a cafe & courtyard area round the corner. Chris Riddell is due shortly and the church space will definitely be needed for him.
Publisher ‘rep’ visits have continued importance to children’s bookshops and the reps visit the shop roughly every other month – with the exception of the Bounce Marketing, which now represents over 30 publishers of children’s books, making more frequent rep visits a necessity.
Anna and Gavin would love to get to more of the London events they’re invited to but with the shop to run and young primary aged children to look after it is difficult to get away. At the time of my visit though they were looking forward to their annual trip to the Booksellers Conference with an overnight stay in Warwick and a chance to meet up and share experiences with fellow booksellers and bookshop owners.
Annette is a HUGE Herve Tullet fan.
Dom Knight mourns the closure of one of Australia’s independent bookshops:
Great neighbourhood bookshops have an essential quality which cannot be replicated by any other means of book purchasing: taste. Looking across the impeccably neat piles of books arranged just inside the door of an excellent bookshop, and you will see dozens of utterly enticing books, with delightful covers and intriguing premises. You mightn’t have heard of the authors before, but in many cases, you soon will.
This is because good booksellers not only know what weare reading, and what wemight want to read, but what we should be reading. They put their favourite books out in prime positions, because they believe in them and hope somebody will discover them. More often than not, this is because they’ve actually read them themselves, and fallen in love with them.
Follow @SarahJChapman and the twitter tag #IndieBookCrawl
This summer, author Emma Chapman will be setting off on an adventure to visit as many independent bookshops as she can in one month.