Tuesday, 25 September 2012

"...We have a cushion hung on the wall for bottom-shelf browsing, a shop teddy called Aloysius reading in the children’s section, and we sell eggs from our own hens by the dozen."

Bookshop Spotlight #8!

I warn you, this blog post is going to tug on your heartstrings. There, you have been warned.

I'm introducing you all to Ellie, who runs Book End, a bookshop in Bakewell, with her mother. She's going to tell you the story of her bookshop. Ellie's bookshop is also in 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops':

Boy: Mummy, can I have this book?
Woman: Go and see if your dad will buy it for you.
Boy: Dad! Mum says if you don't buy me this book, then you can't sleep in her bed tonight!

Ha! Wonderful.

So, here we go. The story of a wonderful bookshop! Hurray!

"People said we were mad when we mentioned our idea of opening a second-hand bookshop in the middle of a recession. At that point, that's all it was, an idea... but the wonderful thing about ideas is how they can flourish at the right time, and in the right place. For me, my bookshop bloomed from one of the hardest times of my life. I started to develop agoraphobia when I was 20, and when I realised that things were so bad that I couldn't leave the house any more, I made the difficult decision to leave university and move home. A year down the line, when I could still barely get out the front door, my mum Lynne took time off work to help get me back on my feet - and she soon realised that she didn't want to go back to her old job. It was at that point, with my confidence steadily improving, and both of us starting to look at entering work again, that the word 'bookshop' first tumbled from our lips.

"I'm one of those 'once a reader, always a reader' people; I learned to read early and have never looked back. My mum and stepdad are also devoted readers, and my sister too - though she took a little longer to discover the joy of books than I did - and the dream of running a bookshop quickly manifested itself in my  young mind. Growing up, I loved Black Books and idolised Kathleen Kelly in Nora Ephron's rom-com You've Got Mail, because they had the job I wanted and their shops looked so lovely! A few more years down the line, I discovered Jeremy Mercer's Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs, about his year-long stay under the watchful eye of George Whitman at Paris's Shakespeare and Company bookshop, and the dream stirred again.

"It was in early 2009 that we started semi-seriously looking for properties and considering where we might like to open our still-not-quite-real bookshop. In the end we settled on the pretty little tourist town of Bakewell, the so-called Jewel of the Peak District, a fifteen-minute drive along the valley bottom from our house. While the rents for retail properties in the centre of town are quite steep, we found a little end shop, right by the famous 700 year-old bridge, for a much more reasonable figure that wouldn't blow our budget completely. It needed a lot of work doing to it inside, but actually it's lovely being in a slightly quieter, more picturesque spot, even if the footfall isn't quite so high. It's particularly nice in summer, when the door is open and we can hear the ducks and geese nearby. Come June it's not unusual to hear a cry of 'DUCKLINGS!' and see both of us sprint past and out the door because we've clocked some telltale squeaking coming from the river!

"The day we visited the shop with the agent and signed the lease was... surreal. No one imagines that dropping out of university and being rendered housebound could be the path to your dream job! Of course, we didn't have long to ponder this before the hard work started; within a day or two we'd launched into Project Renovation, roping in my grandparents and stepdad to help us overhaul the grubby ex-charity shop interior as best we could. Doing everything on a shoestring was tricky, to say the least, but it's amazing how much a lick of sunshine paint and a new laminate floor brightened the place up! We used the till/counter setup left behind by the Red Cross, and sourced all our bookcases and chairs from a company that specialises in office clearance and resale. Then we start amassing books any way we could, via mass sales on eBay for example, and cataloguing them ready for opening day!

"We opened on Bakewell Carnival Day, 4 July 2009, and we've never looked back. Everything's still pretty much done on a shoestring - our opening celebration involved jugs of orange juice, plates of cookies, and tiny fairy cakes with books iced onto the top! - but we've still managed to grow and evolve over the past three years into a buzzing, bright and busy little shop. We don't even pay ourselves minimum wage, but to be honest, as long as we're ticking over and paying both the shop bills AND our own comfortably, we don't really mind that much. Our gift range helps keep profits up even when book sales are down, and selling via our AbeBooks storefront is a lifesaver come wintertime. And hey, I guess what we lack in funds, we make up for in enthusiasm... most of the time... :)

"There are two other big second-hand and antiquarian bookshops nearby, so rather than attempt to compete with their long-established vastness, we've tried to stay true to what we are at heart - a small family-run bookshop catering for the locals here as well as the hordes of tourists who descend in the summer wanting holiday reads for their hotel rooms and bookish gifts to take home. We now stock cards by four local artists, Vanity Fair prints, Bodleian Library merchandise, Penguin Classic mugs, Paperblank journals, beautiful handmade wooden pens, and all sorts of other bookish bits and pieces - we love hand picking the things we like and sharing them with our customers! In book terms, general fiction probably sells best for us, but children's books go down a treat with visiting families (and doting grandparents on coach trips!), classics always do well as the weather gets colder, and a lot of men make a beeline for our history shelves. We try to sell a bit of everything - fiction and non-fiction, second-hand and antiquarian - because being a tourist town we get such a huge variety of customers through our doors over the course of a year and everyone wants something different. We also run book searches, which can be one of the most rewarding parts of the job. When someone's been looking for a book for twenty years, being the person to finally track it down and place a copy in their hands is wonderful!

"Books aside, we're really just trying to create a nice atmosphere here for people to come and browse, and we're at liberty to do it all our own way. We have several lovely regulars who come each week for a chat, and our first ever customer, the lovely David, gets a good sit down, a cup of tea and a delve into our biscuit tin each time he visits. Basically, if we can do anything to encourage readers and make their visits more enjoyable, we'll do it! If you have a cough, we'll get you a glass of water. If your super-enthusiastic kids buy twelve books, we'll usually knock a little something off the price. I even have a couple of young regulars who are so refreshing in their love for books (mostly we just get insolent teens, sadly) that I'll occasionally pass one of my own books onto them for free when they visit. We stick little cards in books we've enjoyed and have a pinboard showcasing books we've been reading, reviews and national bestseller lists. We have a cushion hung on the wall for bottom-shelf browsing, a shop teddy called Aloysius reading in the children’s section, and we sell eggs from our own hens by the dozen. In fact, some days the Orchard Girls are more popular than the books!

"Three years down the line, we've just survived another chaotic summer season and are winding down for the quieter winter months. We've renewed our lease for another three years and are now spending a little time happily scouting out fun new gift ideas to replace some of our older lines. Meanwhile, Mum and I continue to work side by side with only the occasional argument, my sister still volunteers occasional days (her name badge reads HANNAH - Family Slave) and sits on the counter reading with a giant bag of pod peas, and my grandmother can occasionally be spotted drifting through the shop with a mug of tea in one hand and a Mills and Boon novel in the other; we've made firm friends with the owl man who displays by the bridge, the folks from the coffee shop opposite and the ladies in the boutique next door, and all the while customers come and go... Here's to a few more years ahead of us yet!" - Ellie

Bookshop address:  Book End, Bridge House, Bridge Street, Bakewell, Derbyshire DE45 1DS
Phone: (01629) 814994
Email: bookend@hotmail.co.uk 

Ellie's blog: http://musingsofabookshopgirl.blogspot.co.uk/


Thanks, Ellie! x


More bookshop spotlights:

#1 Ripping Yarns
#2 Constellation Books
#3 Storytellers, Inc.
#4 Belgravia Books
#5 Riverbend Books
#6 Blackwells, Oxford
#7 The Book Barge

[If you're a bookseller and you'd like to do a bookshop spotlight on the blog, drop me an email]


  1. This sounds like absolute bliss, and the shop looks beautiful! I'm dying to come over for a visit now :)

    1. Aaah, thanks Steven - it's only little, but we do our best!

      And Jen, of course, is welcome anytime, WITH biscuit tin privileges and reserved comfy chair. :)

  2. It sounds lovely, and I'm in awe of you for two reasons. One, I'm also agoraphobic, and I know how difficult it is to deal with. I can't get through the door by myself any more, and it's very difficult going from 'normality' to being so reliant on other people. Two, I also run my own business, so I know how much of a risk it is, and what a leap into the unknown you have to make in order to get there. You've done amazingly on both counts.

    1. Thank you so much, what a lovely comment! I'm still not quite fully recovered, but I owe a lot to my mum and sister for encouraging me and helping me take things at my own pace without ever letting me slip backwards again. Drop me a line if you like, I know how lonely it can be sometimes and it can feel REALLY good to rant to someone who knows what you're talking about!

  3. This sounds like a wonderful bookshop! If I'm ever up that way I'll definitely pop in :)

    1. Yes, if you ever feel the urge for rolling hills, indie stores and copious amounts of tea and cake, Bakewell's the place to go! :)

  4. How absolutely wonderful!!!!!! I can only imagine what it feels like to get up each morning and go to "work." Your bookshop almost sounds like an outreach of your home :) rather than a "business"! So so lovely...that, my friend, is what makes the shop so successful I imagine. I hope to visit England in the next year or two and if I'm successful, I'm definitely coming for a visit! :)

    1. :) I hasten to add, though, that running a bookshop is work. not 'work', and very hard work at that. It may be something we enjoy, but there's a hell of a lot to do! x

    2. Oh yes, it's definitely hard work. Mum spends most of the day in the office keeping up with online orders, gift stock and admin; I handle book searches and front-of-house service. Being out on the shop floor on a busy day isn't exactly a joyful prospect at times - not all customers are pleasant and shop girls aren't allowed off days! The rest of the work we do together, like buying in stock and cleaning down every day. £20 a day, six days a week...

      On the other hand, it definitely feels like an extension of home, since we did everything ourselves and our family are so comfortable here. And during the off-peak winter months we do get chance to relax a bit - maybe catch up with something on iPlayer in the office over lunch, or get some quality reading in on the desk. Still, nothing beats locking up at the end of a long day and heading home for a bit of peace and quiet... ;)

  5. It's been absolutely inspirational reading your story. It has made my day!!! I don't if a poor Indian guy like me can afford to travel to England, but.. if I do, visiting your shop and meeting you lovely ladies will be on top of my to do list. Thanks for sharing your story. I wish you all the best and great success.


    1. Thank you Prem! That's the problem with the internet, isn't it - there's so many places you want to go and people you want to meet, but they're always so far away! Hope you make it to England sometime...

  6. This sounds like a great place, the sort of place you could wile away hours in!