The Wivenhoe Bookshop
At school I had chosen ‘books’ as a career path. I started off in a bookshop, moved into publishing and then in my forties, with three young children, acquired a bookshop of my own.
Then came recession, struggling through my first cold and dreary winter. I joined the Booksellers Association and campaigned against the abandoning of the Net Book Agreement whereby shops had to sell books at the Publisher’s price. Then it was abandoned and we had to compete with supermarkets and large book chains reducing the price of books. Many small independents went to the wall but I soldiered on.
I computerised early, becoming as efficient as possible to lure people back from the opposition. I figured the days of the quaint little bookshop were numbered and what people required was a good service, especially with a university nearby and many academics living in the village.
The other thing that people wanted, I imagined, was a place towards which they felt an attachment, a loyalty.
I started a Reading Group with a local restaurant – food and books being the perfect combination. It started with six members and ended up with us having on average 30 people for each monthly meeting. All books chosen by me and sold by me! The Group was shortlisted for a national prize sponsored by Penguin for the best reading group. We came second to a prison group and were invited to the Penguin offices in the Strand for tea. Set up in 2000 and still going strong.
Having renovated an old outhouse at the back of the shop, I then started a Philosophy Breakfast on a Saturday morning having met a philosopher from the University in the pub who had recently retired and fancied holding small classes for amateurs to keep his hand in. I got the idea of a breakfast from the Edinburgh Book Festival and offered croissants from the local deli and coffee. Almost as old as the Reading Group and still going strong with a new (much younger) philosopher.
At a book conference my colleague, Helen, and I heard about a Greek bookshop which had a knitting group in once a week. Helen was inspired. She saw a knitting group as a counter-balance to the Philosophy Breakfast and called it Woolly Thoughts. She insisted that there would be no mindless nattering but only discussion of important subjects currently in the news and she gave them coffee and cakes. The amount of raucous hilarity that came from the shed (as the outhouse was called) made you wonder how successful Helen was with her strictures.
I had brilliant staff who stayed for years and years.
In this way, together with author events, launches for local authors, poetry readings, midnight Harry Potter launches etc etc, we built up a huge loyal clientele which carried us through the huge threat of Amazon and ebooks. I retired after 24 years and was able to hand on a thriving business to a younger colleague who is breathing new life into it. I can now go in to browse (my favourite activity) and I have none of the hard work and responsibility but it still feels like my baby.