Two Bookshop Stories brought a smile to my face today. After reading so many reports that they were in decline and closing down throughout the UK, they made me feel that there is still hope for the independent bookseller.
Because of the current economic climate, thousands of small businesses are reported to be going out of business, especially the high street bookshop, which has been hit by the onslaught of Kindles and digital books. It is depressing to think that bookshops might disappear altogether from our streets. Surely there is room for both to be enjoyed by the reading public?
But there is some good news from the Booksellers Association. They report that in 2017 the number of independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland actually grew for the first time since 1995. It would seem that there is growing support from publishers and the European Competition Authority, as well as signs of a return to print with sales on the increase after years of decline.
Kindles have their time and place, but perhaps a lot of people feel they’re just not as tactile or as satisfying as the printed book.
The first story is a remarkable one of support by the general public when a bookshop decided to move premises. The bookshop, October Books in Southampton, were moving from their old shop to a former bank site about two hundred yards away, which would also include community rooms for local organisations.
Volunteers were asked to help move the books and a few people agreed to do so, but when the books were carried onto the street, members of the public suddenly decided to form a chain. About 2,000 books were passed along the chain of book lovers with another 18,000 to follow. As one of the staff said, ‘It was heartening to see such support for us; a real desire to see us stay in the High Street.’
The second story told of a gentleman from the Netherlands, Ceisjan Van Heerden, who won a bookshop in a raffle!
Apparently, the prize was offered by Paul Morris, the owner of Bookends in Cardiagan, Wales. It was a profitable enterprise, worth about £30,000, if offered up in a sale. Instead he made the surprising decision to give someone the chance of realising their dream of owning their own bookshop. So over a period of several months, anyone who spent over £20 in the store was entered into the raffle.
Van Heerden’ s name was drawn out of a hat in front of a crowd in the bookshop, but he wasn’t there to see the result and only heard about it when he received a phone call from the owner.
Morris, who suffers from osteoarthritis, said if hadn’t been for his illness, he would still be running the bookshop. As for the winner, having got over the shock, Heerden says he and a friend coming over from Iceland to Wales, now see it as an amazing opportunity to run the bookshop as a partnership.
Earlier this year, during a visit when my books were deposited in the National Library of Ireland in Dublin, I was overwhelmed by the thousands of books on the ancient shelves. And for the life of me, as popular as they are, I couldn’t imagine them being overtaken and replaced solely by Kindles and digital copies.
Such libraries are part of a nation’s heritage. Like the library, let’s hope the bookshop keeps its place on the streets of the UK and Ireland, selling books and serving booklovers like you and me.