diamond geezer

 Monday, April 22, 2013

It's tough to be an independent bookshop these days. Really tough, now all you lot buy your books online or upload text to your Kindles and smartphones. So it's especially brave, or perhaps foolhardy, to open an independent bookshop in 2013. Once such venture is Woolfson & Tay, which opened last week in the backstreets of Southwark. They used to have premises in Bermondsey Square, but closed down there at Christmas after business wasn't quite as brisk at they'd hoped. It's hard to see how the new location is better. The shop's in Bear Lane, between the railway viaducts of SE1, close to various main roads but not actually on one. If you followed the orange lampposts from Southwark tube to the Tate you'd almost pass by, but not quite, so fingers crossed you'd notice. W&T's worth noticing.

The shop's long and thin, and not especially big, with two walls for books and two for windows. Enter past the pink picnic tables on the pavement, and perhaps meet Matzo the dog lying in his basket by the door. It's a very light and airy space, with bright shelves of forward-facing covers and some movable tables in the centre. There's a fine choice of books too, not your bog-standard Waterstones best sellers, but carefully curated modern stuff and a shelf of classics. This is the sort of bookshop which sells Scarp, which for some of you is all you'll need to know. The new premises being smaller than the old they're selling off some of their stock in 'book bundles' - two hardbacks or three paperbacks mostly for under a tenner, should any of the string-bound selections in the window take your fancy.

Behind the central desk I had the pleasure of meeting the two ladies whose business this is. "I'm Woolfson, and this is Tay". They were clearly very proud of the place, opened thus far for so few days, and were keen to pass on details of all aspects of the shop's business. They have a loyalty card for repeat purchasers. Tea and cake are on offer, in Saturday's case a lemon and courgette cake with premium-priced slices. In the week they serve a homemade Asian lunch, and every Saturday morning starts off with Tai Chi. Then most Wednesday evenings an author or two turns up to give a talk - Toby Litt and Maureen Duffy are lined up for May. That's the advantage of having a flexible retail space that can be a bookshop sometimes and a literary hub for the remainder. Just so long as people make use of the facilities, otherwise Amazon will have won, and where's the joy in that?
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