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Our October Bookshop of the month features Mostly Books from Abingdon-on-Thames in Oxfordshire. A regional finalist for Independent Bookshop of the Year 2018 and 2019, they sell adult and kids books, plus a few non-booky items too. Running events for the community means they are an integral part of their community, and they have the most wonderful gift book subscription service (hint hint, if anyone is listening!). Take a look at their upcoming events and you can see some pretty fabulous authors on the list. I love how creative they are, Sarah and her team have some great ideas for sharing the book love, I applaud them!
When was your bookshop born and how did that come about?
Mostly Books opened in 2006 and I took over in May 2017. After spending over a decade working for a large finance company, I decided that life was too short and that it was time for a change in lifestyle. After a couple of setbacks, I was lucky enough to find Mostly Books and the rest is history!
Tell us about the journey and the changes you have seen over the years.
Since I took over the business, the shop has had a full makeover with everything changing but the shelves. We put in new wooden flooring and updated the furniture to make the space appear brighter. The team have spent a lot of time building our events programme and, as a result, we have welcomed some great authors into the town over the last couple of years. Our work with schools is continuously evolving and is a big part of what we do as we all love getting books into the hands of children. We are constantly looking for innovative ways to promote reading and are currently in the process of creating a mobile bookshop that will help us reach more people in and around Abingdon.
Describe your shop in three words.
Friendly, Colourful, Full (of Books!)
Has the rise of digital retailers affected your bookshop, what were your first thoughts about eBooks and do you feel the same now?
The rise in eBooks happened well before I took over the shop, so I didn’t experience the impact of that directly. The move back to print, which has been generally observed across the market, is the theme in my shop. We have a solid customer base who prefer books over eBooks, and we do everything we can to support them.
We sometimes get asked to price-match online retailers, particularly with school orders, and we look at everything on a case by case basis. However, we always ensure that whatever price we charge meets our minimum margin requirements and, if that means that we miss out on a sale or two, that is simply what needs to happen. People understand when we explain that online prices are often lower than our trade price!
Chatting to customers visiting our shop about online vs. the high street, the general comments are that they are happy to pay more than they would online so that they can enjoy the shopping experience and get great recommendations from the team. We still catch the occasional customer snapping a photo of a book whilst muttering something about buying it online but that tends to be the exception rather than the rule.
What is important in a great bookshop, tell us what sets you apart and makes you special.
Customer service, customer service & customer service. The entire team works hard to ensure that each customer has a great shopping experience. We love working with everyone to make sure that they receive excellent book recommendations and are able to enjoy the shop in a way that works for them. That could be being left alone to browse or involve whiling away half an hour chatting with members of the team about their favourite books. We always have a pot of stickers on hand to give out to children and our colouring table and toy box is a big hit.
We support the local community by acting as a box office for local music and theatre productions and make space in our window to advertise local events. When our customers were asked what they liked about the shop, they said that we have ‘Great range, great service and great people’.
Tell us about the books you love to recommend.
The team all have their own specialities when it comes to recommendations. I am all about Adult Fiction and non-Fiction, Julia loves Sci-Fi and children’s fiction and Imogen is a massive fan of YA and children’s fiction.
My key recommendations are History of Bees by Maja Lunde, Home Fire by Kamilla Shamsie, Normal People by Sally Rooney, any of Ruth Hogan’s titles, Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite and Everybody Died so I got a Dog by Emily Dean.
Julia’s favourites are Aphra’s Child by Lesley Glaister and Starfell by Dominique Valente and Imogen’s current recommendations are The Land of Roar by Jenny McLachlan, A Good Girls Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson and Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay.
What is your favourite part of your bookshop?
Our children’s room is gorgeous (if we do say so ourselves!) with mini tables, chairs and beanbags which are all designed to make it a place that children can relax and enjoy their books in. Our ‘Book Nook’ in the corner of the room has a little tree covered in sparkling lights which is guarded by none other than Hugless Douglas himself, and the wonderful illustrator, David Melling, has created a gorgeous drawing of three blue tigers reading to add that special touch to the room.
Tell us a secret about books.
Books can take you on a journey anywhere. Regardless of what else is going on, you can escape from it all in the pages of a book. Cast some spells, solve a murder, explore another culture or find out something that you never knew about a person or something that has always fascinated you.
I believe that there is a book for everyone, even those people who think they don’t like to read. It could be a totally compelling piece of fiction or a fascinating non-fiction title but, whatever it is, the team at Mostly Books make it our business to find that book.
Apart from yourselves, which other bookshop(s) do you love to spend time in?
I am a bit of a bookshop obsessive and basically hunt out shops wherever I am. I am a huge fan of Warwick Books, Edinburgh Bookshop & Mr B’s Emporium in Bath. I have also spent a lot of time in some amazing bookshops overseas with El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires being my strong favourite. There are so many more I need to see, including Mainstreet Trading in Scotland which (unbeknownst to them at the time) helped inspire me in my bookselling dream.
What else do our members need to know about you?
I made the decision to own my own bookshop whilst travelling around South America. A random conversation with a couple on an island called Chiloe, off the coast of Chile, motivated me to make it happen. I was questioning whether bookselling was for me and they told me about their local bookshop (Main Street Trading) which hadn’t been open for too long and was doing well. That conversation was a turning point for me, and I came back to the UK determined to make the bookshop happen.
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