Three bookshops make Britain's Best Small Shop 2020 shortlist

Three bookshops make Britain's Best Small Shop 2020 shortlist

Indie stores Mr B's, Books At The Dragon's Garden and Griffin Books (pictured) are in the running to be crowned Britain's Best Small Shop 2020.

The trio of booksellers are part of the 30-strong shortlist for this year's prize, which is run by the Independent Retailers' Confederation. The winner will be announced next month.

Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath has given new space this year to displaying lists about vital issues from Black Lives Matter to the climate crisis alongside a children's section.

In addition to personalised reading subscriptions, it also offers Reading Spas, in which one of the shop’s team of booksellers aims to learn all about a guest’s favourite reads over tea, coffee and cake, before introducing them to a selection of books especially chosen to suit their tastes.

Owner Nick Bottomley said: “Our new website has been built to reflect highly curated book lists and staff recommendations. We have also changed our packaging to make it recyclable. New book subscription packaging is also being designed that is more sustainable. We are also pressuring publishers to change processes and are no longer accepting proof copies or unsolicited marketing material, making the book returns process less wasteful.”

Over in Penarth in the Vale of Glamorgan, Griffin Books offers a range of fiction and non-fiction titles for adults and children, alongside maps, greeting cards and gifts. The store regularly runs author events, three book clubs, plus Toddler Storytime, which are now taking place online. Its book subscription service is a popular gift option, and it offers personal recommendations, a next-day ordering service, a click and collect service and loyalty card scheme. 

Owner Mel Griffin said: “Prior to lockdown the shop’s online sales were very limited, but this changed overnight. We adapted our entire sales model in a few hours, operating an online ordering and home delivery service via email while the shop was closed. We supplied books and more to regular customers, while also attracting new customers from much further afield who discovered the shop via an increased social media presence.”

Books at the Dragon's Garden in Llanwrda, Carmarthenshire, is an appointment only bookshop which offers a curated collection of books as well as cards, wrapping paper and Fair Trade gifts. The shop runs a loyalty scheme for customers and offers promotions throughout the year. In addition, in its base at the market garden it uses organic compost, seeds and freshly picked vegetables and flowers.

In addition to the main award, the store has also been shortlisted for a special award to be given to the independent retailer that has demonstrated specific innovation to combat the impact of Covid-19. This award is sponsored by booost, the loyalty, gifting and promotions app.

Books at the Dragon's Garden owner Mandy Tomos said: “It was impossible to make my previous shop both safe and financially viable, so I had a radical rethink and a conversion of two old stables at my market garden meant I was able to move the entire shop to a rural location.

“In the interim I continued to promote the business on social media and sold online via the website. I received an award as a 'Local Hero' for continuing to supply my local community during lockdown. As the shop is now appointment only, it is very safe for both customers and staff, numbers are low and social distancing is easy. Contactless payment is taken outside under cover. I used social media to maintain contact with my customers and wrote a chatty book suggestion column in our local free paper every month.”

Previous winners of the award have included The Mainstreet Trading Company, a combined bookshop, café, deli and homeware shop based in St Boswells, in the Scottish Borders, which won in 2018. 

Meryl Halls, m.d. at the Booksellers Association, said: “In a challenging retail landscape, it is so important to celebrate the hard work being done by innovative small shops and the valuable role they play in their communities. We are delighted to hear that three independent bookshops are among the shortlist for this year’s Best Small Shop competition, representing the dedication and resourcefulness that we see booksellers demonstrate each day. We wish all three bookshops the best of luck.”