Despite a challenging sector, where a much beleaguered high street is feeling the pinch coupled with the rise of online giants, many indie bookshops are thriving. We met four lively indies that have opened recently, all of whom put their communities at the heart of what they do.
Max Minerva’s Marvellous Books & More
39 North View, Westbury Park, Bristol BS6 7PY
￼￼￼￼￼An inscription on one of the walls of Max Minerva’s Marvellous Books reads: “The secrets of the world are contained in books. Read at your own risk.” Taken from Lemony Snicket’s Horseradish (Egmont), the quotation highlights the world of possibilities inherent in bookshops, as well as the playful attitudes of the shop’s proprietors, Jessica Paul and Sam Taylor.
Paul (pictured below) says it has been a “lifelong dream” to open a bookshop, and when Durdham Down Books in Bristol suburb Henleaze closed recently, the pair jumped at the chance to open a new shop at the vacated site. The Henleaze community is made up of retirees and young families, which Paul says are “ideal groups” as they “still buy books”.
Although the shop’s space is too small for a café, the retailer does offer extras by way of events and creative writing classes, including for children.
“We really want the bookshop to be embedded in the community, and so our job is letting people know that this is a place to come.”
According to Paul, books are “in her blood”. She grew up with an uncle in the book business, and as an adult helped develop collections for the Singapore National Library; she also ran a small online bookshop in Australia. Her husband Taylor’s passion is ensuring children’s education and development has a creative aspect. He previously ran Bristol Story Lab, which worked with schools to turn kids’ stories into illustrated books.
The shop is named in honour of Paul’s late 15-year-old cousin Maxene Emily Minerva, a voracious reader. “The name is a tribute to her, but as Minerva is the Goddess of Knowledge, it all worked beautifully together,” Paul says. “I want to ensure customers know this isn’t a sad story, it’s a celebration of her love of reading.”
103 Manchester Road, Manchester M21 9GA
Sarah Pregnall opened Manchester’s Vinyl Fiction in June in order to bring together two of her passions, both of which are currently experiencing a resurgence: books and vinyl records.
Pregnall is determined to give the shop a friendly, fun vibe, and to create a space where people can hang out and talk about books and music. With eclectic stock that ranges from Sally Rooney’s Normal People to the Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz (both Faber), and bestseller lists where Father John Misty’s new album sits alongside Nick Drnaso’s Man Booker-longlisted Sabrina (Granta), the new shop is a worthy destination for Chorlton’s music and literary buffs.
Like many other bookshops, Vinyl Fiction runs a host of events, which Pregnall says gives exposure to the shop, brings in new customers and cements the shop as a place for people to come and network. It launched a regular spoken-word event, Big Words, which features a network of writers and artists. “The last couple of events have been packed out, it’s been standing room only. It’s very exciting.” Next year the shop is planning on hosting a regular acoustic night and album-listening parties.
A challenge in running the shop has been the inconsistency in footfall. Weekdays are usually quiet, with weekends a lot busier. To improve this, and to generate buzz around the shop, Vinyl Fiction has a lively social media presence, carefully curated and with new book and music releases discussed each week. The shop also intends to work more closely with local publishers Confingo Publishing and Comma Press. Pregnall says: “It’s been a whirlwind, but it’s going really well.”
44–46 Bridge St, Pinner HA5 3JF
Brooks Books—stylised as BrOOK’s—in Pinner, Middlesex, opened on 22nd August 2018. Owners Peter and Sarah Brooks were inspired to open the shop after they visited the Battery Park Book Exchange in Asheville, North Carolina, which doubles as both a used bookshop and a champagne bar.
While the pair say that challenges in the market come in the form of uncertainty surrounding the wider economy and the big issues affecting the trade—such as deep discounting on new hardback titles from the larger chains—they say there is still the opportunity for indies to flourish by offering something special to customers. In this way, the Brookses were keen to expand their offering beyond the usual remit of a bookshop, so as well as its thoughtfully curated book stock, the pair also offer a café and a bar. “We provide a personal service and always engage with customers. People can come for different occasions,“ they say.
Further, Sarah Brooks adds that the shop has cultivated an atmosphere where people can come to disconnect from technology and connect with physical books, and with each other. “Lots of people of all ages are saying they want to move away from screens, at least for part of their day,” she says. “We have created BrOOk’s as a social and print space, and discourage the use of laptops. Customers have welcomed this, and love the atmosphere.”
As the shop boasts a bar, it is able to offer late night shopping, and on Wednesday to Saturdays it is open until 10 p.m. Its enhanced offering is showcased in its strapline of “books–wine–coffee”, a triumvirate the owners refer to as a “winning combination”.
The shop was formerly a bank, so the couple have used many of its features—for example, they have converted the old bank vault into a seating area which is used by book clubs. “The old building had many tired and mundane features that a bank required in order to operate, but the specially commissioned architect and building team took such existing characteristics and breathed new life into them, establishing a bookshop that can accommodate up to 50 people and features many distinct corners and quiet spaces to explore, including the former bank vault, replete with comfy new seating,” says Sarah Brooks.
The shop is located in a London suburb, and as such has a “very diverse” community, which the Brookses are keen to reflect in their choice of stock. “We have engaged with local authors and stock self-published books,” says Sarah. “We specifically look for different titles that have BAME characters, such as Julian is a Mermaid [by Jessica Love, Walker Books]... We don’t have any mermaids locally that we know of, though!”
Since its opening, the local residents have “wholeheartedly” welcomed the shop into the community, say the owners. Brooks Books also has a lively events programme, and has run free events to mark National Poetry Day. It runs adult story-telling sessions and has a choir, which was set up as an activity to support those in the local area who struggle with mental health issues. The shop also hosts a number of local author events and has a bay dedicated to local authors. Going forward, the Brookses are keen to forge links with local schools. The shop is planning for a class from its local primary school to visit the premises in March 2019, to celebrate World Book Day.
Category Is Books
34 Allison Street, Glasgow G42 8NN
Run by wife-and-wife team Fi and Charlotte Duffy-Scott, Category Is Books is a queer bookshop located in Govanhill, south Glasgow. It hopes to create a space for the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies to learn about, be inspired by, and share in its passion for queer history, culture, writing and storytelling.
The doors opened in September 2018. The pair say: “We have lived in Govanhill for the past four years, and this is something that we always wished both our city and local area had. We think that it is important that queer- ness is visible in as many places as possible.”
The shop is divided into “categories” which include autobiographies, camp cult classics, queer theory, lesbian fiction and sci-fi. There is a Young Adult and children’s section, as well as a non-fiction section about LGBTQ history, politics, health and other issues facing the community.
In keeping with the shop’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, the shop is “autism-friendly” on Wednesdays. This means the lights are dimmed and the shop plays a soundtrack of white noise, as well as making sure conversations are kept at a low volume and that there are heavy blankets on hand.
A key part of the shop, say the pair, is the hosting of events, and the premises is used for readings, signings, launches, workshops, reading groups, writing groups, support groups, after-school drag clubs, performances, a pop-up barber, film screenings and more.