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LoveReading Bookshop of the Month: Roe River Books

Liz Robinson

By Liz Robinson on 20th May 2019

Our bookshop of the month for May is Roe River Books in Dundalk Ireland, the owner Tom has a huge depth of knowledge as he previously owned a bookshop back in the 1980’s. I really love this monthly feature, being allowed access to bookshops is rather magical, it feels as though each is linked of course by a love of books, but also an independent spirit and energy that shines through, meaning they become a treasured part of our communities. I love the photos from Roe River, I have to say that I have author and book launch envy, John Connolly is an absolute legend!

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

Roe River Books was born on October 1st 2007. At the time I was working in my previous occupation as a civil engineer and was asked by a client to look at a property he had just acquired. The property was a school bookshop, a local institution that supplied local schools and the general public. More interested in the building that the business, my client was looking to sell the business as a going concern some months later. I asked for first refusal when he decided to sell and half an hour after sitting down to discuss the deal I was the proud owner of a bookshop. We moved within 6 months to new bigger premises and expanded the range to include more general books. Then in June of last year after 10 years in business, we moved to our new premises and added a coffee dock. The move has worked out really well so far and we’re getting a great reaction from existing and new customers.  

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

My first involvement in the book trade was back in the late 1980’s. So I remember the Net Book Agreement and the time before Amazon did it’s best to ruin retail everywhere. Ironically, despite all the changes to the trade in the interim, Roe River Books is doing well and the future is looking good. The changes? Net Book Agreement abolished, on line, decimating the high street retail trade, e-readers and much greater competition for people’s diminishing attention span, like Netflix and social media. The most significant difference I see though is the demise of the giant book chains. I think for a while there was a trend to treat bookshops like supermarkets. Run by retail “experts” who tried to sell books as if they were supermarket produce. 3 for 2 offers buy 1 get 1 free, a sort of pile them high sell ‘em cheap approach. The business seems to have found its proper level thankfully. Independent bookshops are surviving better than a lot of other retailers by curating their own stock, selling people the books they want and providing a service they can engage with.   

Describe your shop in three words.

Home from Home. At least for me. Retail work best when it creates a welcoming atmosphere. Independent bookshops do that better than most.

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

I think most retailers would agree that e-books are much less of a threat than on-line retailers. E-books have their place but nothing beats a real book and as Stephen Fry said “books are no more threatened by kindles than stairs by elevators” First thoughts, I didn’t like them then and still don’t like them, but each to their own. 

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

I think what’s important in a great bookshop is to remember that you’re only special if your customers think you are. Unless you provide the service they need you may as well be Amazon; faceless, impersonal and just about the transactions. Bookshops are about books, customers and the interactions between people. 

Also, we recently started an on line Book Club and we’re lucky enough that Ellie Rowsell the lead singer of Mercury Award-winning band Wolf Alice is a regular contributor. I met her after a gig in London last year and knowing that she loves reading asked her if she'd like to be a reviewer for us. 

Tell us about the books you love to recommend.

Far too many to mention them all. What’s great about books is that the next great one is just a publication day away. My own favourites are (and in no particular order) The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, What Happened in Boston by Russell H Greenan and anything by, John Connolly, James Lee Burke and more recently Joseph Knox

What is your favourite part of your bookshop?

I really shouldn’t say this but that quiet time just after closing (preferably on a busy day) when all the customers are gone and I have the shop to myself. That and the people the shop attracts. We do get a few eccentrics but readers are the best people to be surrounded by and where better to meet them than in a bookshop?

Tell us a secret about books. 

Allegedly, the original manuscript for Of Mice and Men was “eaten” by Steinbeck’s dog. He later said, “I was pretty mad at the time but maybe the little fellow was acting critically”  

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

No Alibis in Belfast and The Gutter Bookshop in Dublin are both great places run by people who really know their stuff and are great for events and meeting authors. Probably my favourite though is El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires. I’ve only been there once, but it’s absolutely beautiful I’d love to get a chance to visit it again. 

What else do our members need to know about you?

I’m not convinced there’s really anything, anybody NEEDS to know about me.  In bookshop terms though it might interest some people to know that as I mentioned earlier Roe River Books is not my first bookshop. I owned and ran another (small) bookshop back in the late 80’s. I gave it my best effort for 4 or 5 years but it wasn’t to be, and with the abolishing of the Net Book agreement imminent and the lease up for renewal I decided to return to civil engineering. It broke my heart a little bit, but made sense financially at the time. I’m delighted to have this second opportunity and so far, this time it’s working out just fine. 

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