Over the weekend, I went on a stroll through town and once again lamented the fact that the bookshop closed down.
Well, technically, they moved from one shopping centre to another 10 minutes down the road, but they might as well be different stores now.
The shopping mall it used to be at, the Clemens Galerien, is being abandoned slowly but surely after only 15 years. Most of the shops are now empty and being turned into an “urban outlet centre”. The bookshop used to span two floors, it was accessible from the High Street, it was spacious and welcoming and had a few benches and a coffee machine in the corner with the floor to ceiling windows.
I used to go there after school as it was on the way home and I’d get a coffee or hot chocolate to warm me up while browsing for what I wanted to read next.
The new store is just one long tube, harsh white walls and dark shelves, the light too bright and the shelves and display tables way too close together. There’s no coffee machine anymore, no space to browse and no benches.
So I imagined what my dream bookstore would be like. If I was given money with the strict instruction to open a bookstore in a college town, what would I do with that store?
Well, imagine this:
The store itself would be quite spacious, possibly more than 1 room or more than one floor. The aisles would be wide enough that mothers with prams and wheelchair user could get through, but there would be books in every nook and cranny as long as long as the aisles stay clear. I’d want it to be accessible to as many people as possible without people having to fear they’ll knock over a stack of old books every time they turn around.
I wouldn’t just sell new books, because college students often can’t afford to pay full price. I’d offer used books as well, and I’d also offer a textbook buy-back scheme because students are very unlikely to keep all their set textbooks once they graduate or that specific course is over.
There’d be a couple of tables in available nooks, each table fitted with a reading lamp so that people could write their own books there or do homework. I’d actively encourage NaNoWriMo Write-Ins and other writerly get-togethers and there’d be free WiFi throughout the store. Maybe there would be a centre space that can easily be cleared and rearranged with tables and chairs for events.
We could hold author talks and readings, poetry slams, midnight premieres of eagerly awaited books, writing workshops, reading events for children like a Harry Potter evening or fairytale time. And reading nights during which the store is open at night for all those who’ve dreamt of spending a night in a bookstore.
Borrowing the idea from Abbey Books in Paris (and expanding on it – they offer cups of coffee with Maple syrup), every customer would be offered a free cup of coffee, just as a “hello” and “thank you for stopping by.” I’d offer unlimited refills of coffee, tea or chocolate for let’s say €2.50, because writers and readers and students need their coffee fix. I’d even allow them (as part of the free refill) to fill up a travel mug and take it with them, because God knows I’ve needed coffee-to-go before and I’d rather drink freshly brewed filter coffee than whatever dirt water an automated coffee maker spits out. I’ve had my share of those as well.
There’d be a few armchairs, bean bags or pillows on windowsills for people to sit and read. Because sometimes you need to read a few pages before you feel certain you want to commit to buying the book. I probably wouldn’t go as far as another famous Parisian bookshop, Shakespeare & Co., who actually have a bed on their third floor.
I’d offer books in several languages: German, English, French and Italian, possibly others as well depending on the population of whatever town I’d set up shop in. I’m forever getting frustrated that there are only a few English books available in stores here in Germany. At least in my hometown, the combination above would probably be appreciated though I might also have to include Polish and Turkish.
Every now and then, I’d hold a used books bargain sale out front, either along specific themes or simply to clear out. That might include 50% off on all books with a blue cover or 50p per book on a specific subject or genre.
The store would be open late, so that people coming home from work also have a chance to grab a book and a coffee without having to rush. There’d be a notice board (or several) on which people can leave messages, look for roommates, or leave a note that they are looking for specific books that I can’t get for them (older versions of textbooks or out-of-print edition). Or maybe just write a love note to your favourite character.
Maybe there’d even be a resident cat or dog (or both), to keep browsers, readers and writers company and who kids could read to in order to practise reading out loud.
I’d want the store to be a social hub, the pulsating heart of the community that offers more than just books. I’d want it to be a meeting place, in which reading and writing and lingering and browsing is encouraged.
I draw my inspiration from various bookshops around the world. Bouvier in Bonn, Germany, for example, which closed down in 2013. Then there’s Abbey Books and Shakespeare & Co., arguably the best-known bookshops in the Quartier Latin in Paris. Parkinson Antiquarians in Southport, UK and Bookcase and Bookends, both in Carlisle, UK. Jason Books in Auckland, NZ, City Lights Books in San Francisco, USA and Skoob Books in London, UK to name just a few.
So, who’d like to open a bookshop with me?