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LoveReading Bookshop of the Month: Books & Ink

Liz Robinson

By Liz Robinson on 18th March 2019

Books and Ink, (what a wonderful name for a bookshop!) is to be found in Banbury, Oxfordshire. The picture of the street it sits in looks idyllic with all that wisteria doesn’t it? When Books and Ink started it was as a second hand bookshop, it now sells carefully selected new books too. Owner Sam is obviously much loved if she has customers bringing her chocolate! I have to confess, I really want to see the 1,000 vintage Ladybird books, I promise I’ll pop them back in the right order!

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

Books & Ink was opened on Halloween 2005, when I was 27. It started out as a joint venture with one of my closest friends though I took over sole ownership about 7 years ago... Don’t worry, we are still very close friends!! I had been working in university administration and marketing since I left uni and while I enjoyed the work, I wasn’t passionate about it. My friend Sheryl and I had this dream of running a bookshop since we were students together and back in 2004 the timing was about right so we decided to give it a go. We spent a year accumulating stock (second hand books), learning the ropes and finding the right premises and we got the shop up and running on a shoestring budget, gradually building it up, increasing our stock (and shelving) until it is how you see it today. 

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

The first couple of years were golden years for us really. The shop thrived; we were open 7 days a week. But any retailer can tell you, that wasn’t really sustainable! Nobody can work 7 days a week indefinitely. The recession 2007-8 hit us quite hard, as it did most businesses selling “non- essential” goods (I disagree with that by the way - books! Non-essential?!! I don’t think so!!). There was a bit of a wobble with the introduction of e-books and the huge influx of charity shops onto the high streets. The shop is now thriving again but is open 5 days a week and for shorter hours, from 10am to 4pm, so that I can manage the shop on my own. The journey has taken me from selling only second hand books, to now stocking a small but carefully curated selection of new books as well. I have learned to specialise over the years and I have customers now who come in making a beeline for the “Books About Books” section or the extensive “Children’s” sections, both new and vintage books being catered for in both of these areas. 

Describe your shop in three words. 

Welcoming. Serendipitous. Tardis. 

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

Not really a great deal. Online retailers were already quite a big deal when we opened the bookshop, so right from the outset we had our own website and were selling our second hand books online. This remains quite a big part of the business. Ebooks... well, I’ve never been a big fan of them personally but that’s only because I don’t enjoy reading on a screen. I love turning pages, the feel and smell of books, marking my place with a real bookmark. However, I’m not a Luddite! Ebooks are really useful for a lot of people; for travel, for people with eyesight problems, for students. The market for ebooks seems to have now reached a happy plateau; ebook sales have stopped increasing beyond the sales of physical books; a lot of people who have tried e- readers have returned to reading physical copies and there has in recent years been a general celebration of the book as an object - new book design has stepped up a gear to make books attractive to new generations, eg. coloured page edges have made a return, which I love! What I love about physical copies of books is that you can lend them out, drop them in bath, not worry too much if you leave them on the train, donate them to strangers... none of which you can do with an ebook. 

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

The best bookshops have personality and individuality. There’s nothing wrong with chainstores but what you find in my favourite independents (and can’t find anywhere else) is a carefully curated selection of books. They may reflected the owner’s tastes or interests, or showcase books from independent publishers, which you don’t often see displayed in the chains... whatever it is, there is something about them which makes them unique. Plus, they are usually welcoming, though I have been in some great bookshops run by disgruntled and curmudgeonly owners, but which still have some fantastic stock and which are still wonderful places to browse! What sets us apart is the mix of new, antiquarian and old books which one customer was kind enough to comment in a blog as being the best combination she had seen, without any one dominating the other. I don’t know what makes us special but lots of our customers seem to think we are - and that’s good enough for me!! 

Tell us about the books you love to recommend. 

Children’s books. Children’s books. Children’s books. New and old; I just love children’s books. 

What is your favourite part of your bookshop? 

Um. The Children’s sections. I have over 1,000 vintage Ladybird books in stock and I confess to a little OCD when it comes to making sure they’re put back in the right order... 

Tell us a secret about books. 

Do you know about foredge paintings on antiquarian books? Disappearing paintings are the most exciting. This is where a landscape scene or heraldic design, for example, has been painted onto the very edges of the page margins; when a book is closed there is no sign of a painting but when you fan the edges of the book, as if by magic, a painting appears. The earliest known examples of these types of foredge paintings date back to the 17th century. 

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

Pretty much any. Whenever I’m away I seek out the nearest bookshops! However, my first love was Blackwells in Oxford. I used to spend many happy hours in Blackwells when I was doing my A Levels. The first time I went into their Broad Street shop I was literally overwhelmed by the size of the place, the quantity of books and the choice; it was amazing! I also have a soft spot for Hay- on-Wye and love spending time there... the trouble is you can get lost in Hay for days.... 

What else do our members need to know about you? 

That’s a difficult one. If you don’t find me with my head in a book, you’ll generally find me in walking boots and with a camera in hand. That’s pretty much me - books, walking and photography, oh and art, music, ballet and musicals... I think that’s about it! Oh, and some of my customers who know me well bring me vegan-friendly dark chocolates from the wonderful chocolate shop, Belflair, just around the corner..... (I just thought I’d mention it...!!!!).

Keep up to date with Books & Ink


Twitter: @booksinkbanbury

Facebook: @Booksandink

Instagram: @booksandink

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

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