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LoveReading Bookshop Feature: The Highland Bookshop (Fort William)

Liz Robinson

By Liz Robinson on 15th September 2020

The Highland Bookshop features as our September Bookshop of the Month, and what better way to ease into Autumn. As with all great bookshops, they sit at the heart of their community and as they are in a tourist hotspot also get to see lots of visitors too. The Highland Bookshop is open seven days a week, and currently offer click and collect from their front door as well as free local deliveries, what’s more they also offer private shopping sessions in the morning before 10am, such a fabulous idea. If you have a dog, then do take a look at the answer to the last question, now that is an invitation!

Website - www.highlandbookshop.com

Email - bookshop@highlandbookshop.com

Facebook - TheHighlandBookshop

Twitter - @highlandbks

Instagram - @highlandbks

When was your bookshop born and how did that come about?

Our bookshop came about after a chance meeting at the front door of The Watermill Bookshop & Cafe, Aberfeldy around April 2017 between author & Lochaber entrepreneur Angus MacDonald and Kevin Ramage (owner of The Watermill). Angus asked if Kevin fancied opening a bookshop in Fort William and we opened our doors three months later on the 14th of July!

Tell us about the journey and the changes you have seen over the years.

We are still fairly new but it is safe to say it has been a bit of a whirlwind three years. We have worked hard to be part of our community while catering for the many, many visitors to the town throughout the year. We are very lucky to be located in a tourist hotspot! We've been able to expand into a new floor every year so far and now occupy all three and a half floors of our building. This year has definitely brought its challenges but, thankfully, we only had to close the shop for 8 weeks at the start of the lockdown and opened up our online shop offering local deliveries and posting out books from May. It has been quite a change operationally but it has given us the opportunity (and excuse) to upgrade our website, has opened up our shop to people in far flung places and most importantly to local people who still wanted their books!

Describe your shop in three words.

Friendly, Scottish, Feminist.

Has the rise of digital retailers affected your bookshop, what were your first thoughts about ebooks and do you feel the same now? 

eBooks were well established by the time we came along but not a week goes by without someone apologising to us for still using an E reader while they buy children's books for their kids/grandkids. I certainly feel they have a place in the world as they keep reading accessible for people who are visually impaired but online retailers are a real and present danger for independent bookshops selling books at impossibly low prices. Hearing potential customers uttering the dreaded words "I can get it cheaper on Amazon" is a heartbreaking, almost daily, reality and seeing publishers and authors sharing links to the online retailers is difficult to swallow.

What is important in a great bookshop, tell us what sets you apart and makes you special.

The thing that makes a bookshop great is a passionate and dedicated team of staff members. Selling books in a bricks and mortar shop is challenging these days but it would be impossible without our brilliant and knowledgeable staff!  And, I always say there is a book for every single person, even if they aren't the biggest reader. Trying our best to have a wide selection of books so that whoever walks in the door feels like they belong is very important to us and (I hope) makes our shop great.

Tell us about the books you love to recommend.

There are so many books we love recommending it is hard to choose! Good quality local fiction is our go-to for visitors looking to get a feel for the area and we are rather lucky to have plenty of quality books based in and around Lochaber. We all have VERY different tastes in the shop but Kelsey loves to recommend Witch Light by Susan Fletcher + Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and I loveInvisible Womenby Caroline Criado Perez + Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Buying books is such a personal thing and tailoring recommendations to each individual is a delight. 

What is your favourite part of your bookshop?

We love our great big windows (our shop was originally a garage so you can literally drive a truck through them) and our lovely little shelf talkers. Every staff member writes a short recommendation for the books they love and they are intregral to selling books for the shy types aren't keen on asking for help or simply folks looking for inspiration. People commenting on them always gives us a lift.

Tell us a secret about books.

A great secret to book selling is to recommend no more than 3 books at a time. Any more than that ovewhelms people so we try our best not to get too carried away with options.

Apart from yourselves, which other bookshop(s) do you love to spend time in?

We are a long way from any other bookshops but we love visiting our friends at The Watermill in Aberfeldy, Leakey's Bookshop in Inverness and we have grand plans to visit The Bookmark in Grantown-on-Spey, The Ullapool Bookshop and all of our Edinburgh pals sometime soon -The Portobello Bookshop, Golden Hare Books, Lighthouse Bookshop, Edinburgh Bookshop, Blackwell's - to name but a few. Being located over 100 miles away from the cities makes every bookshop visit a special event for us but we have good relationships with lots of other shops and constantly share trade secrets and tips.

What else do our members need to know about you?

I hope our customers know how much we appreciate them buying books from us when they have so many online and supermarket (read - cheaper) alternatives to choose from. Also, I wish more people knew they can bring their dogs in. We have a sign but maybe we should make it bigger as one thing guaranteed to make our day is a furry friend popping in for a browse.

If you enjoyed this, click here to read more of our Bookshop of the Month features.

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