Four independent bookshops - Drake The Bookshop in Stockton, Forum Books in Northumberland, Kenilworth Books in Warwickshire and The Mainstreet Trading Company’s Bookshop & Café in St Boswells - are in the running to be named Britain’s Best Small Shop of 2018.
The Best Small Shops competition, managed by the Independent Retailers Confederation (IRC), celebrates "the commitment and creativity of independent retailers on the UK’s High Streets and the central role they play in their local communities". Applicants were asked to showcase their "innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and community ethos". The winner, selected from a shortlist of 25 retailers, will be announced at an event at the Houses of Parliament on 13th November.
Richard Drake, owner of Drake The Bookshop, told The Bookseller the shortlisting was “brilliant news" and, in particular, his teenage son who helps in the store was "stoked". "The fact the book industry has such a healthy chance of being voted Best Small Shop this year is a huge testament to how well and positive independent bookselling is at the moment," said Drake, adding: "For little old Stockton, and given that M&S has just shut here, it’s a massive boon."
Family-run independent Drake The Bookshop, in Stockton, was voted best independent bookshop in the north of England 2018 by the British Book Awards. The shop runs a total five book groups, including a children’s book group where the shop skypes with authors and a free one for adults. It also runs a weekly storytime for children in holiday time, hosts a writing group for young adults with special needs, and last Christmas collaborated with the local council in providing free books for over 100 looked-after children.
Forum Books, located in a listed chapel in Corbridge, Northumberland, prides itself on its staff's knowledgeable recommendations and also holds regular story times for children, school visits to the bookshop and author visits to schools. Its regular events programme brings 40-50 writers, illustrators and chefs to Corbridge, from debut novelists to well-known bestselling authors. It has also been pioneering a "Silent Book Disco" in the bookshop every Saturday as well as taking it out to libraries, schools and book festivals. The event - a silent disco with a big book theme - encourages customers to "grab a drink at the bar and a pair of headphones, dance, sway, read, be happy!".
Kenilworth Books has built a wide and loyal customer base, and also works with schools and libraries across the Midlands - supplying books, arranging author visits and advising on everything from book-group choices, to supporting dyslexic reading.
The Mainstreet Trading Company’s Bookshop & Café in St Boswells, in the rural Scottish Borders, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. It expanded its customer based by adding a Deli & Home section in 2012 and lately innovations introduced by the business include its "A Year of Books" subscription service, "Book Burrows" (two ‘dens’ where the shop plays children’s audio books), and the Love Your Indie book loyalty card. It also has a Bookshop Van, to ensure all children in the Borders get to meet an author through Mainstreet during their school life, and Summer Reading Diary competition, where children review up to six books and the winners receive their height in books.
"Despite all of the bad headlines and the high-profile closures of larger stores, we firmly believe that specialist independent retailers can thrive in this climate by delivering a truly unique retail experience," commented Mark Walmsley, chairman of the Independent Retailers Confederation. "The Best Small Shops competition enables us celebrate this unique industry, the passion, service, flexibility and knowledge of independent shop owners offer and show customers what makes independent retailers so special."