I follow quite a few independent children’s bookshops on Twitter, though haven’t had a chance to visit one myself for a LONG time. With this in mind (and with C and H to entertain for the whole weekend whilst M worked on the final assignment for his masters), I set about trying to discover a local one to go to (purely for research purposes, you understand…) and came up against a brick wall. I could find none in my county.
I did find one local independent bookshop that had a children’s section, although it wasn’t quite what I had expected. Admittedly it was part of a general bookshop and wasn’t claiming to specialise in children’s literature, but it didn’t feel exciting, or even particularly welcoming, to a mum with two small children and every intention of buying them (for which, read ‘them AND me’) a book. The books weren’t organised in any helpful way and we were stared at whenever we made a noise or looked at a book. I hate to admit it, but I felt far more comfortable taking the boys into the most common high street bookstore later that day and we bought a few books in there instead.
It has always been a dream of mine to open a children’s bookshop (alongside everything else I’m planning on doing, hee hee), but I just don’t think I’d ever have the finances to be able to do so. After I shared my disappointment of the day’s experience with M, as well as my dream of setting up a shop of my own (with a spare room to run my Story Seekers classes, regular free storytelling sessions, themed role-play areas, author and illustrator visits – my mind is running wild now!), M said that he didn’t think it was a viable business venture anyway, as not enough people are prepared to pay more for books when they are available more cheaply on the internet. This made me sad, although he might well be right.
So, a few thoughts sprung to mind.
1) I hate thinking badly of people and just writing them off, so am convincing myself that maybe the shopkeeper was having a rough day yesterday and the last thing he needed was two small children excitedly whizzing around. He is probably perfectly lovely the rest of the time and would be very sad to hear that we hadn’t enjoyed ourselves. Perhaps they do lots of great things for children and I just haven’t heard about them for some reason. I have resolved to visit again and find out.
2) Could I volunteer to help out, for free, to revamp the children’s area of the shop? I have lots of exciting thoughts and am so inspired by places like Tales on Moon Lane that I think I could really transform it into somewhere that encouraged children to come and discover books and share a love of reading? I could even do free Story Seekers-style sessions there, which would give me a good chance to trial run some of my ideas. However, I’m worried that this would be a terrible faux pas and that I’d hugely offend the owners by suggesting that I thought there was room for improvement. Tricky.
3) Can independent children’s bookshops be really successful, especially outside of London? I’d be really interested to hear from anyone who knows of any non-London-based examples as I feel sure they must be out there (despite being somewhat lacking in my county)!