The UK’s “first alternative” bookshop, Gothic Image, is shutting its doors this month after 40 years.
Husband and wife team Jamie George and Frances Howard-Gordon revealed they are closing the Glastonbury institution on 31st January but will continue with the affiliated tour company of ancient sites, and the publishing company Gothic Image Publications, with Gordon also writing her memoir.
The shop boasts a selection of both fiction and non-fiction with a big focus on alternative genres such as mythology and tarot. However Howard-Gordon believes that after pioneering the publication and retail of alternative books, it is now time to take a step back.
“We have been going for 40 years, I’m 71 now and I still have some energy but not as much as I had," she told The Bookseller. “Publishing and bookselling have changed so much. In those days there were no others, we were the first alternative bookshop. We started the shop because we had small children and it worked really well.”
She revealed how she shared the publishing, tours and shop with her 70-year-old husband. "We always shared working in the shop though my speciality was book buying and he did more accounts and admin. We both did window and book displays together and went to all the trade shows too. He worked on tours and I worked on publishing but somehow all the sharing worked really well."
Howard-Gordon also lamented how internet shopping has affected customers’ behavior. “We have a lot of people who come and browse and say we can buy it cheaper online,” she said. “I want to say, ‘we’re not going to have a high street if you do that’. The shop ends up a lot of maintenance. I’d like to take a break, it was a gradual decision. I really will miss the bookbuying.”
The bookseller said that over the next few weeks they will be selling on the stock in the 1,200 sq ft shop. She said tthey had wanted to pass the bookshop on but were unsuccessful in finding a buyer so are selling the freehold for the site to be a different shop instead. The other staff are seasonal part-time workers with Gordon and her husband the only permanent members of staff.
She said the publisher "grew out of the bookshop" and they will continue with it on a small-scale after taking some time off, while George focuses on the successful tours of sites such as Stonehenge.
The bookseller believes publishers should champion independent retailers on more practical level. “They give a lot to the supermarkets and Waterstones and they say ‘we support independents’ but I don’t think they are really doing it. We have to pay within 30 days whereas the bigger companies get three to six months to pay, it makes a big difference.”
Howard-Gordon also believes the role of sales representatives is being undermined. “I think the reps are so important and we would spend hours going through books with them, I think they’re really underrated,” she said.
On her future plans, she revealed that she will be swapping the retail aspect of books for the writing. “I’m on the second draft of a book, a memoir," she said. "It is a lot to do with the tours in Russia I used to run during the time it was communist. They were very off the beaten track and we never knew if we were going to get arrested.”