Ahead of Bookshop Day, bookshop owner Sarah Dennis highlights what makes independent bookshops special:
It’s Bookshop Day on Saturday and, to celebrate, we are letting 13 children take control of our shop as part of our annual children’s takeover. It’s going to be chaotic, madness and utterly utterly wonderful.
We wanted to do something to reflect everything that bookshops represent, and the children’s takeover is it. Bookshops aren’t the same as other shops, they aren’t simply a place to go and buy something, they are so much more than that.
When I look back on my university days, I clearly remember getting away from it all by heading to the sofa on the second floor of Waterstones, Deansgate. I don’t remember what section of the shop it was, I just remember the sofa. It was small, comfortable and usually free. University was brilliant but it was non-stop and those visits to the bookshop gave me some much needed ‘me’ time. I was in a place where no-one asked me what I was doing or told me to move and it was simply OK for me to grab a book and read.
Fast forward 20-odd years, I now own my own bookshop. It’s small, independent and (if I don’t say so myself) it’s gorgeous. Every member of the team thinks about bookshops in the same way, so we do everything possible to make sure that our shop is that place, where people can go to just be (obviously, it would be great if they bought books too….).
Two of my team members worked at the shop before I did and they both got their jobs because they used to be customers. The younger one was just a teenager when she first visited. Painfully shy and obsessed with books, she remembers skulking up to the YA section to find her next read and hoping that no-one would notice that she was there. The other person is a mum to a large family and, when they were growing up, she didn’t get a lot of time to herself. She used to come into the shop to talk about books with the owner and to have some time just for her.
Our shop (and every other bookshop) is a safe space, it’s a community hub and it’s a place that helps ward off loneliness. We have customers that regularly come into the shop for a chat and to browse. Sometimes they’ll buy a book, sometimes they won’t and that’s OK. It’s great to know that they feel like our shop is somewhere they can come.
A young girl recently visited who had been struggling to find books that she could identify with, having recently come out. After seeing the shop at a local Pride event, she said it made her feel like she had somewhere safe that she could visit. That is what bookshops represent.
In this day and age, where technology rules all, the comment we hear time and time again as people enter the shop is "I love the smell of books". They will often grab the nearest one and flick through it, it clearly takes them off into a different world. Books unite everyone that visits, regardless of where they are from and what they do when they aren’t in the shop. Everyone has a love of books in common and that immediately means that we have something to talk about.
When parents come in with their small children, pushing them in pushchairs and shushing them, we tell them not to worry. We want children to love our shop and to be able to look at the books, colour at our kids table and hide in our kid’s book nook without having to worry about being quiet. We want children to feel at home in the shop and to develop their love of books in a place where they want to be.
When I recently asked people what it was that makes a bookshop, the same messages kept coming up again and again. They are different to other shops, they are relaxed, they’re a place of calm and they are somewhere to talk and to hone ideas. You can easily while away hours in a bookshop, knowing that you aren’t going to be rushed and that there are like-minded people around. That is what bookshops represent.
Sarah Dennis, owner and manager of Mostly Books in Abingdon.