10 start-up booksellers to watch in 2006

<p>Harriet Dennys</p><p>Author Susan Hill recently dealt a damning blow to the independent fraternity in her letter to the Guardian, in which she complained that her small survey of independent bookshops found "nothing to cheer, and much that was either depressing, infuriating or both". The nadir of Hill's "miserable tour" was a shop run by a sad-looking man who was selling mainly the latest bestsellers in hardback from a premises in "a dismal side street, which was also a rat-run for lorries". Ouch.</p><p>But when independent bookshops play to their strengths--a stock range of a wider variety of more unusual books that are hand-sold according to the principles of traditional customer service--the picture is rather brighter. Matthew Crockatt, co-manager of south London's Crockatt&amp;Powell, which opened just before Christmas, relishes the freedom that operating apart from the "satanic chains" affords. "We hope that people will respond to our wit and enthusiasm," he says. "We will never put you on hold, and anything that we don't stock can be ordered--new or second-hand, in or out of print."</p><p>Last year, around 60 start-up independent bookshops registered with the BA--proof that not even discounting on the adolescent boy wizard can deter those with an ambition to run their own independent bookstore. Some of the new shops, such as Lincolnshire's The Book Fayre, have diversified into gifts to stay afloat; others, such as Radish on the outskirts of Leeds, are developing close links with the local community. All 10 of the start-up booksellers featured here have a healthy disregard for Amazon and the chains; Crockatt speaks for all when he says: "Bring on the competition."</p><p>Serendipity, Southport</p><p>Deborah Farrington, manager and owner of Serendipity, moved from working with children with behavioural problems in a school in Liverpool to setting up her own children's bookshop. She believes it to be the only children's specialist in the north-west.</p><p>The interior of the shop, which opened last September, has been painted in red and purple stripes, while its tall, curved shelves reach all the way to the ceiling, which is painted midnight blue with silver stars.</p><p>The puppets that Farrington used in her work at the school--some of which are child-sized--sit on the shelves and are brought down to assist with her Saturday morning story-telling. "I wanted to show parents how well children respond to puppets," she says.</p><p>Serendipity stocks books for children aged up to 18, but teenagers are proving reluctant so far--a situation that Farrington hopes to address by introducing a book review club. Although there is a section for older readers and some books for children with Asperger's or dyslexia, the stock is not divided into categories to stop parents telling their children that they are too young for a book. Serendipity is closed on Mondays, when Farrington holds story-times in local nurseries.</p><p></p><p>Serendipity, 189a Liverpool Road, Birkdale, Southport</p><p>Henry's Books, Tyne and Wear</p><p>Henry's Books, which opened for business at the start of December, is named after the manager's cat, which spent so much time in the local library that the librarians assumed that it must be able to read.</p><p>Manager Sarah Walsh, who worked as a Waterstone's bookseller in London for three and a half years, raised the money to open the shop by working as a civil servant when she moved back up north to join her family. She says: "I liked working for Waterstone's but personal selling and customer orders are easier to do if you are not limited to certain suppliers."</p><p>The shop, which is the only bookshop in Ryton, has been well received by the local community. Ione Rippeth, Liberal Democrat councillor for Ryton, mentions Henry's Books in the party's political fliers; customers have said that the shop provides a better service than Waterstone's in the Metro Centre, Gateshead. Before Christmas, some customers were told that Waterstone's couldn't get the book they wanted, whereas Henry's Books could. A monthly programme of events with authors from north-east England begins this month.</p><p>Walsh says: "We want to become part of the fabric of the town. Although we cannot promise all the big price cuts, the fact that we are here on the doorstep and welcome everybody in is in our favour."</p><p>Henry's Books, Lane Head, Whitewell Lane, Ryton, Tyne and Wear</p><p>Victoria Park Books, London</p><p>Joanna de Guia, co-owner of children's bookshop Victoria Park Books with her husband Cris, says that setting up the shop was "about repairing work/life balance". De Guia has a long history in bookselling: her family owned The Limpsfield Bookshop in Oxted, Surrey; she worked in Waterstone's on Kensington High Street, London in the late 1980s; and she holds a diploma in publishing production from the London College of Printing.</p><p>But having a baby two years ago and working for somebody else proved to be "incompatible". When the freehold for the premises in Hackney came up, de Guia sold her house, bought the building and renovated it over four months, opening just in time for Christmas last year.</p><p>Victoria Park Books has children's books for all ages, from tiny babies to 18+, as well as reference books and books on parenting and childhood events, such as being a teenager or coping with a death in the family. The shop also has a section for stories from around the world and books in two languages, including Turkish, Somalian, Yoruba and Tagalog.</p><p>De Guia was warned initially that she wouldn't get many teenagers coming into the shop, but the young adults section is proving popular and should become more so when the shop starts supplying books to schools. Popular authors are Lauren Child, Giles Andreae and Anthony Horowitz, as well as Daisy Meadows for her Rainbow Fairies series--a range that de Guia is "equivocal" about, but continues to stock because it keeps little girls reading. </p><p>Victoria Park Books, 174 Victoria Park Road, London E9</p><p>The Book Fayre, Lincolnshire</p><p>Owning a bookshop was a long-held ambition for Kathryn Fairs and her husband; when the right property came up in the Victorian town of Woodhall Spa, her husband decided to invest the money he received when he left the air force in the venture.</p><p>The Book Fayre opened for business in August last year, announced by a feature in the Horncastle Community News. Former primary school teacher Kathryn Fairs has devoted a large proportion of her 4,000 Ps to children's books. Military and aviation Ps are also popular, as the 617 Squadron of the Royal Air Force--better known as the Dambusters--was based in the village from 1944-45. Other strong sellers are books on golf--the English Golf Union relocated to the village in 1995--and maps and walking guides for tourists, who are drawn to the village by its Victorian architecture and its setting in a conservation area.</p><p>Fairs is the supplier for three local schools and is hoping to expand this area of business. She has also diversified into gifts to support local crafts, and has a sideline selling first editions of modern classics on Abebooks. But the mainstay of the shop will be its emphasis on traditional customer service: Fairs wants to go back to "the old values, where we have got time for our customers and treat each one personally".</p><p><The Book Fayre, 3 Witham Road, Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire</p><p>The Curious Otter, East Devon</p><p>Whenever it rains at night, Adrian Lea, manager of The Curious Otter, lies awake worrying about his bookshop. The River Otter, from which the bookshop takes its name, has burst its banks twice since the shop opened on 8th October, and not even the Environment Agency's &#163;4m flood defence scheme could prevent some damage to the Otter's stock of 4,000 new books. To commemorate the flooding, Ps now available include Waterland by Graham Swift and Emergency Boat Building for the Small Shopkeeper by Ivor Dampfoot.</p><p>Floods aside however, The Curious Otter has received a warm reception from the town, which had been without a bookshop since the closure of the Coleridge Bookshop around 10 years ago. Owners Lea and his wife Kate, who moved to Devon from London five years ago, hope to meet the town's demand for literature with a general range of fiction; biography; local interest; poetry; sport; cookery; gardening; travel; mind, body and spirit; and children's. Lea and his colleague Pete Roberts manage the shop, while Kate organises the window displays.</p><p>Setting up the bookshop was a way for Lea to balance his part-time finance and accountancy roles with a job that he would enjoy more; at the back of the bookshop is an office for his roles that help support the rental costs. He says: "Part of selling books is therapy for me: when I get sick and tired of the world of finance I can go out and sell a few books."</p><p>The Curious Otter, 4a Silver Street, Ottery St Mary, East Devon</p><p>Crockatt&amp;Powell, London</p><p>Matthew Crockatt and his friend and business partner Adam Powell have 20 years of combined bookselling experience. Their eponymous new shop, Crockatt&amp;Powell, which opened a week before Christmas, stocks "virtually nothing" in A-format; instead, it holds a general selection of carefully chosen books ranging from poetry and drama to philosophy, travel and architecture.</p><p>The different sections are not marked; Ps are arranged in "a slightly idiosyncratic way to encourage the greatest bookshop joy: browsing", according to Crockatt. He says: "Our aim is to create a place where like-minded people can browse in a relaxed, friendly environment."</p><p>The business has spent no money on marketing since it opened, but has generated publicity through its lively blog at www.crockattpowell.blog.co.uk, which was recently voted Blog of the Week in the Culture Vulture section of the Guardian.</p><p>The bookshop will hold regular poetry readings, author events and short film screenings; it will also organise a monthly reading group. The novel under discussion at the first meeting of the group on 6th February was Orhan Pamuk's Snow, which is the shop's bestseller to date.</p><p>Crockatt&amp;Powell is currently running a promotion on The Night Watch by local author Sarah Waters. In an exception to the proprietors' aversion to discounting, C&P is selling the book at the same price as Waterstone's as a marketing tool to draw people to the store. "We are determined to make Crockatt&amp;Powell part of the great tradition of fine London booksellers," Crockatt says.</p><p>Crockatt&amp;Powell, 119 Lower Marsh, London SE1</p><p>Radish, Leeds</p><p>Radish is a family business on the outskirts of Leeds that caters for its customer base of educated professionals by offering "a diverse set of ideas and inspirations". Co-owner Margaret Arnold explains: "We certainly have an ideas ethos; the idea for the name Radish is that we are a bit radical: rad-ish."</p><p>Open since May last year, the shop has six shelves of books whose non-fiction Ps tend towards the political, philosophical and magical. The fiction Ps are mainly literary fiction such as A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka, but there are also a few thrillers and bestsellers in the mix. "We have to be careful what we put on the shelves," Arnold says. "Whereas the chains can spoil you for choice, we have to rely on our selection of books being a wise choice, because people will come in and buy from us based on that."</p><p>Because Radish's radical politics are about world issues, the shop has diversified into Fair Trade gifts and goods. Alongside the usual incense and candles, Radish sells Fair Trade clothes and textiles; it has also recently branched out into world music and music from local bands.</p><p>Arnold's daughter Beth, who manages the shop, is heavily involved with a chat room called Leeds Music Scene, and is able to advertise the shop's music stock through the site. Radish also has a community noticeboard where people can advertise workshops and events, and is hoping to develop its links with local travel agents.</p><p>Radish, 128 Harrogate Road, Chapel Allerton, Leeds</p><p>The Blessington Bookstore, Co Wicklow</p><p>The joint managers of The Blessington Bookstore, Janet Hawkins and Karen Allison, met through The Glen of Imaal reading group, which Allison, a former postmistress, runs. Allison and Hawkins, a former chartered accountant, decided to open the bookshop because they were both looking for a new business venture and were encouraged by the growth of the town, which was already supporting a thriving health-food store and organic cafe.</p><p>Initially attracted by premises in the town's new shopping centre, The Blessington Bookstore eventually opened in the first week of September in "a much nicer unit" on Main Street, which was "more in keeping with the character of the shop", according to Allison. Of the store's 3,000 Ps, 90% are new books and 10% are remainder stock, which are mixed in with the new books to provide customers with hidden bargains. Although Blessington is a general bookshop, its largest section is children's, which is housed in a recessed alcove.</p><p>The Blessington Bookstore, whose nearest competitors are in Dublin and Carlow, delivers free of charge to three local drop-off points: two garages and a supermarket. The store is also happy to provide its dinner party service: the managers will choose and wrap books for customers stuck for a present.</p><p>The Blessington Bookstore, Main Street, Blessington, Co Wicklow</p><p>Bookworms of Reigate, Surrey</p><p>Ex-teacher Terry Hart left her further education college last April before opening children's specialist Bookworms of Reigate on 22nd October. The aim of the shop is to capture the market for books for primary and secondary schools--there are 60 schools within a six-mile radius of Reigate. Hart held a teachers' evening on 1st February and hopes to host regular class visits. She also runs the Bookworms children's club, which involves a book-buying incentive scheme.</p><p>Bookworms stocks books for children from nought to 18, from picture books through to teen fiction. Books for under eights are kept downstairs next to the Bookworms cafe; books for over eights and non-fiction are found on the ground floor. Hart also supplies a full range of York Notes and other study guides, classics, poetry and resources for teachers.</p><p>The shop's bestseller to date has been Nikolai of the North by local author Lucy Daniel Raby, who opened the shop. Hart has been surprised by the books that have done well--Enid Blyton and the Mrs Pepperpot series by Alf Pr