Last summer I spent a lot of time browsing in a second hand book shop in our little town. I loved going in there because… well, books obviously. But they also sold drinks and cakes you could either eat at a table in their little cafe at the back or they’d bring your order out to wherever you were in the shop. Given the choice, what would you do? Whenever we went, we’d find ourselves upstairs with a pot of tea and a soft drink (I still haven’t grown up, so I don’t do hot drinks) and a couple of cakes, all served on bone china and left on a coffee table (there were a few scattered around the shop, along with a mis-matched selection of armchairs and even a chaise longue). There, we’d eat and flick through books, and take a sip and browse the bookshelves. It was a terrific experience every time.
We’d lost the only independent bookshop in the town a couple of years earlier, and that was one of only four left in Nottinghamshire at the time. The opening of this second hand bookshop offered something new and interesting. The range of books was different if only because it didn’t replicate the limited selection available at the local supermarkets. And where else would you find books by Harold Robbins, Desmond Bagley and Alistair MacLean these days?
So having this new bookshop was a godsend, and the owners did a lot to promote themselves to the locals, putting on events, and operating a very active social media campaign. When the town had its first literary festival in September last year, they played a key role in it, putting on talks and other opportunities to meet local authors. And yet, within weeks of that festival ending, they had to admit defeat and close after little more than two years.
They haven’t gone altogether. Well, they have from my little town in north Nottinghamshire. But they’ve headed out into Derbyshire now and settled in at Matlock. I hope their venture there has more success. If you’re out that way, call in. They’re called The Barrister’s Book Chamber, and if you want to know why, I’m sure they’ll be delighted to enlighten you.
I’ve not had a chance to go and visit them yet, but I will. Though I doubt my support alone will be sufficient to keep them afloat. Nor will any bookshop stay in business if there are only a few individuals who pop in and buy the odd book here and there. They need regular support from a wide range of people. Sadly, I’m not convinced that support will be forthcoming – and I recognise that I’m part of the problem. Not me personally, but people like me, who don’t venture out into the High Street often enough, who’ve found they like the convenience of reading off a Kindle, who prefer the ease of buying a book online – because we all have busy lives, don’t we? And I know this doesn’t just apply to bookshops. So many retailers are struggling now because of the rise of internet shopping, but also the convenience offered by the major supermarkets. Why wander around half a dozen shops when you can buy your food, your clothes, your magazines, your electrical goods, your bed linen and your toys all under one roof?
Reading back that last paragraph I wondered for a moment whether I knew what point I was trying to make. In a way, there probably isn’t one. It’s more of a reflection of what we already know. Bit by bit, these aspects of our lives are being chipped away. As an author, inevitably, I focus on the bookshops – of all ilks. But there are so many other kinds of shops that are disappearing.
What do you miss?