Twenty-three people have been included in The Bookseller's Bookshop Heroes class of 2021, a list of some of the best individual booksellers in the UK and Ireland.
Bookshop Heroes was launched last year with the Booksellers Association (BA) to expand the remit of the Individual Bookseller of the Year Nibbie, last awarded in 2019, saluting shop-floor talent at a time when it most needed recognising. The 2021 list comes after another year of retailers having to deal with coronavirus-related restrictions, as well as supply chain issues.
Bookshops based in London and the North of England dominate the list, with each region claiming five entries apiece. The bulk of the list comes from the independent sector, with 19 entries, although three of those are from indie "mini-chains": Goldsboro Books managing director David Headley, who opened a shop in Brighton at the tail end of 2020 in addition to the hardback and first-edition specialist London shop he co-founded 22 years ago; Kate Claughan, owner of The Book Case in Hebden Bridge, whose second shop, Halifax's The Book Corner, is managed by fellow Bookshop Hero Sarah Shaw. Waterstones has three Heroes, including its Darlington branch's specialist children’s bookseller and social media champion of indie bookshops and publishers, Stephen Baird (a.k.a. Big Bearded Bookseller).
A little over half of this year’s Bookshop Heroes are owner/operators, from Olivia Rosenthall, who opened Maldon Books two years ago aged 26, to Marjory Marshall, the “bookselling tour de force” who has presided over The Bookmark in Grantown-on-Spey for a decade and a half. Industry stalwarts—such as the owner of the Independent Bookshop of the Year Nibbie-winning Sevenoaks Bookshop, Fleur Sinclair—are joined on the list by relative newcomers, including: Dial Lane Books' owner Andrew Marsh, who realised his long-held ambition to open a bookshop just three weeks before the first lockdown; Jasmine Dellimore, who has gone from interning at Moon Lane Books to being named manager of its Catford branch in April 2021 in less than two years; and this year's only joint entry, friends Amber Harrison and Karen Brazier, who jokingly call their bookshop specialising in nature writing, FOLDE Dorset, their “pandemic-induced midlife crisis”.
For many of the Heroes, becoming a bookseller had long been a dream, one often deferred. Antonia Daly of County Meath’s Antoina’s Bookstore opened her shop after a successful engineering career, Sarah Veal took on Lee-on-the-Solent’s venerable The Book Shop after working in the aerospace industry, while Waterstones Piccadilly’s Christopher Jones joined the bookseller following more than 20 years in the merchant navy.
According to the BA, there were more indie shops in the UK and Ireland at the end of 2020 than there were at the start. Although 44 indies sadly closed last year, 50 opened, for a net gain of six. BA m.d. Meryl Halls said of this year's list: “We’re delighted to see the launch of the second annual Bookshop Heroes celebration, and particularly happy that it’s taking place when shops are open and trading. As we head into the key trading period for retailers, it’s really exciting to be shining a light on the great job that bookshops do on their high streets and in their communities."
She continued: "It’s been said many times, but the fortitude, resilience and good cheer exhibited by bookshop owners and frontline booksellers through the pandemic—at a time when they were often uncertain, exhausted and frightened themselves—has been inspiring to watch, and this year’s heroes are exemplars of an incredible group of people. I’m proud to be among them, and feel that bookselling is in excellent hands as we push forward into another challenging year in 2022. We should raise a glass to them all.”
The Bookseller's managing editor Tom Tivnan added: "Forget the pandemic, or whatever the prevailing economic conditions are, opening a shop at any time is a daunting prospect that requires a blend of passion, innovation, specialist knowledge and more than a bit of courage." He cited the example of Bookshop Hero Samantha Carr, owner of Somserset-based The Snug Bookshop & Cafe, which had its roof blown off by Storm Arwen last week, saying: "If you go on the shop’s social media you can see Carr, almost in real time, as she battles to save her stock and her and her staff’s livelihoods. Incredibly, she is using the disaster and extra attention on Twitter to also promote a book donation scheme to a local school. Now, if that is not heroic, I don’t know what is."
The full list of Bookshop Heroes can be found here.