Bookshops in Oxfordshire and Southampton are among the latest independents to open in the UK - with a twist.
In the small town of Wantage, Oxfordshire, Sara Hall’s Madhatter Bookshop sells both hats and books in the same store. Hall has already had success with the model in nearby Burford since 2011 and opened her second branch in December last year.
She said: “It’s a very active community and they like the idea of an independent. We have a much more personal service because all the staff live in the area and they know all of us who work here.”
The idea for the shop came from Hall’s teenage daughter while she was working as a lawyer. Selling fiction, children’s books, cookery and gift titles, Hall said she decided to include hats “because it was fun and its part of our history”.
“You’ve got to do something new and people really respond to the quirkiness,” Hall said. “We don’t try to compete with big chains like WH Smiths, we have a quirkiness that they don’t.”
Another unique combination is Southampton’s Bookshop Alehouse, which opened on 17th February. Its owner Jon Harris was a customer of the city’s Peter Rhodes Bookshop until its owner Brian Wilmot passed away last summer. He said: “I was determined to give the community that had built up around it another space to use.”
Having had almost 20 years of experience in pubs and bars, Harris said: “I love books, but I haven’t the experience or knowledge of the market to make an independent bookshop (exclusively selling books) sustainable. However whilst I can’t sell books, I can sell beer! With the rise in the numbers of micro-pubs in the country I saw an opportunity to combine my love of beer with my love of books.”
The business operates from the same site as Peter Rhodes Bookshop, which now does much of its sales online. “The shop certainly has close links in to the community that were developed over the 20 years it was open,” Harris said. “We’re looking to maintain and increase these.”
Madhatter and the Bookshop Alehouse join other independents to have opened this year including Libreria, from the founders of Second Home in London’s East End, and Burley Fisher Books which opened in Hackney, also East London, in February by the owner of Camden Lock Books Jason Burley and Sam Fisher, who had worked there for three years.
Specialising in new titles by independent presses, the 800 sq ft shop also has its own coffee shop.
Two months on from their launch, Fisher told The Bookseller: “It’s building week on week, there’s been a great response from the local community; people are beginning to realise we’re here. I think people are much more willing to get into conversations in independent bookshops [than in chains] as they’re valued more by the community.”
He added that after a few difficult years, business was looking up for bookshops. “Physical book sales are on the rise,” he said.
The shop’s location on Kingsland Road, linking Shoreditch and Dalston and almost a mile from another independent, has also been a major factor in the shop’s success, Fisher said, as well as evening events such as book clubs, life drawing classes and discussions.
The Bookseller recently reported that 23 indie bookshops opened in the UK in 2015, but 46 closed, bringing the total to 894. The number of indie bookshops in the UK has almost halved since 2005, when there were 1,535.