Meg Ryan put ‘The Shop Around the Corner’ on the map of the world’s best-known bookshops and profiled the conflict between the small independent and the large chain. Plus ça change, these days, though the large chain has, ironically, itself been threatened by the power of the internet. How is it, then, that the small independents are still there, serving their local communities, in spite of the fact that many members of those communities happily support the atmosphere of their friendly store to browse and seek information before going home to buy online what they’ve been looking at? It’s a cruel retail world.
On Saturday, I spent a wonderful afternoon in Bookmark (itself, as you can see, a shop around a corner), signing copies of In the Family and meeting the friendly people of Spalding, many of whom do still like the experience of buying over the counter. Though times are challenging for Christine Hanson, the proprietor, she, as a shrewd businesswoman, has diversified stock beyond books and cards and has made her bookshop coffee shop a place to love to be. Hers is indeed a bright and colourful, adult-and-child-friendly place of discovery, staffed by a team of excellently-trained and knowledgeable booksellers, who go the extra mile to respond to customer needs, keep the stock in tip-top order and make ‘buying a book’ a very special experience indeed. Yet the biceps of the competition are bulging and flexing and Bookmark’s very existence will depend on both the choice of customers to support their bookshop in word and in wallet and upon the need for all booksellers to play at the same street level as in Spalding and around the world.