I saw a retail unit for rent in my local town, with a lovely window, and thus began my bookshop dream.
A beautiful, light-filled space, filled with books of all kinds, shelved to perfection. Comfy sofas to sit on, and proper tea to drink, with cups smaller than the pot as they should be. People from all walks of life sharing the space, joined through a common love of books and reading. A peaceful life, a healthy income, and a beautiful social space.
That’s the dream anyway. I looked into the reality of bookshop ownership, and it bore little resemblance to this Utopian fantasy. Before even selling a book, I’d need to shell out thousands on stock, fittings, rent, rates etc. Serving tea brings issues of food hygiene certificates. Hiring staff involves interviews, then once hired, sorting out tax, NI, uniforms, rotas… To even cover overheads I’d need to sell hundreds of books a month. Add to that the long hours spent in the shop, paying staff a decent wage but taking little if anything for myself. Missing out on family life to chase elusive dreams.
Even customers aren’t what I dreamed they’d be. Most browse in store then buy online, cracking book spines, getting grease marks on the stock, then buying a pristine copy for themselves from discount online booksellers and leaving the soiled copy on the bookshop shelf.
My dream in tatters, I remain glad that I researched before giving too much of my heart to bookselling, glad that I have a family life to keep me grounded, and glad some hardy souls still run independent bookshops so I can visit them.
If you take one thing from this, please visit a bookshop and buy a book there. Keep someone’s dream alive. Otherwise, one day there won’t be bookshops, and the world will be the poorer for it.