Independent Bookshop of the Year

Introduction

These stores are the winners of the first round of the Independent Bookshop of the Year award, picked from 48 nominations in nine regional and country categories. After the toughest year for high street bookselling in memory, they are all worthy champions in their own right.

Winner

Sevenoaks Bookshop

South-East England

All nine bookshops shortlisted in this category have been recognised for their extraordinary work in 2020, as champions in the regional and country round of the award. As the judges noted: “Every one of these businesses has done great things in the face of challenges most of us can’t comprehend… they are all worthy winners.”

From an exceptional field, Kent’s Sevenoaks Bookshop, the South-east England category winner, takes the overall prize. The store is now well into its eighth decade, but it won’t have faced a year as tough as 2020. Its small but indefatigable team responded to the challenges of lockdowns, moving to web, phone and e-mail orders during months of closure and dispatching around 3,500 books to loyal customers—many of them personally delivered by foot and bike. Click-and-collect and Bookshop.org added more sales channels. Events moved online too, including book clubs on Facebook and author events on Zoom.

The tumultuous year showed how this and other independent bookshops sit at the heart of their communities’ cultural and social lives. Somehow, Sevenoaks Bookshop ended 2020 in sales growth, having not furloughed a single bookseller. It also emerged into 2021 twice the size it was before the pandemic, having taken over adjacent premises and launched a dedicated children’s area—a sign of great confidence for the future.

“I’m full of praise and wonder for Sevenoaks’ team,” said one British Book Awards judge. “It’s easy to forget how scary things were at the start of the pandemic, and the creativity and fortitude they have shown is amazing,” said another. “To expand at a time when the high street is hunkering down is astounding… the love and enthusiasm for books shines through and inspires us all.”

Congratulations to our Regional and Country Winners!

  • Burley Fisher Books
    Winner: London
    Haggerston’s Burley Fisher is the London category winner. It was a great partner of indie publishers last year, launched a new subscription service and podcast, and published a few books of its own too. It was one of many indies to benefit from the arrival of Bookshop.org in late 2020.
  • Cogito Books
    Winner: North of England
    Cogito Books in Hexham, Northumberland, is the North of England winner. It became more important to its local community than ever, encouraging customers to talk on the phone, wrapping orders with notes from booksellers and often delivering them to far-flung locations.
  • Far From the Madding Crowd
    WInner: Scotland
    This Linlithgow shop, winner in the competitive Scotland category, rushed out a new website and was one third of the Wee Three Indies collective hosting online events. It teamed up with other shops in its town and was a vocal champion of bookshops’ value.
  • Five Leaves Bookshop
    Winner: Midlands
    The Independent Bookshop of the Year in 2018, Five Leaves is once again the Midlands champion. The radical specialist took good care of staff and customers alike during a stressful year, and its mail-order Mystery Boxes were a hit. “You’ve been a lifeline,” said one grateful regular.
  • Griffin Books
    Winner: Wales
    Like many indies, Penarth’s Griffin Books, the Wales category winner, grew its sales despite the pandemic. It put together a new website, shifted its author events and book clubs online and ramped up its social media, while its subscription service was popular among isolating customers.
  • Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights
    Winner: South-West England
    This Bath shop, the South-west England category winner and a two-time Independent Bookshop of the Year, neatly recreated its personality online. A Recommendation Station for personalised lists and a lively YouTube channel kept it connected to customers.
  • Red Lion Books
    Winner: East England
    Red Lion Books in Colchester, the East of England winner, enjoyed an outpouring of support from its customers in its 42nd year under the ownership of Peter and Sarah Donaldson. The indie used social media to stay in touch, and staff literally got on their bikes to deliver books.
  • Sevenoaks Bookshop
    Winner: South-East England
    This Kent independent, winner of the South-east England category, transformed itself, doubling the size of its shop and launching a retail website for the first time. It dispatched several thousand orders to its customers, many of them delivered by hand by its indefatigable team.
  • Tertulia
    Winner: Island of Ireland
    Ireland’s champion is County Mayo’s Tertulia, a Spanish word for a circle of people discussing books. It has become a cultural hub since opening in 2019, and used media coverage, a new website and its own Tertulia TV to keep patrons loyal despite 24 weeks of lockdown in Ireland.

Congratulations to our Regional and Country Finalists!

Last year was difficult for the entire trade but indie booksellers were perhaps at the very sharpest end of the pandemic. Yet as we can see by the 48 entries on the Independent Bookshop of the Year regional shortlists, indies tackled lockdown restrictions, an uncertain supply chain and the increased share of a certain e-tailer with vigour, creativity and innovation. These shops shifted their business models no matter if they were venerable, like 134-year-old Sam Read and 95-year-old Village Books, or relative newcomers like 2019 entrants like Tring’s Our Bookshop and The Margate Bookshop. 


The bottom line is clear: indies will continue to thrive, no matter what is thrown at them. 

Regional Finalists: Island of Ireland

Map

Map of Independent Bookshop finalists