Exuding the style and attention to detail one might expect of a boutique hotel, the Mainstreet Trading Company - bookshop, deli, café and homeware store - offers a beautiful bookish experience in a beautiful location - the picturesque village of St Boswells in the Scottish Borders.
Founded in 2008 by Rosamund de la Hey, formerly children’s marketing director at Bloomsbury Publishing, where she played a pivotal role in the Harry Potter success story, and Bill de la Hey, a portrait photographer who retrained as a chef at The Edinburgh School of Food and Wine, it’s no wonder Mainstreet Trading has won a host of prestigious awards. Their bookselling prowess has been acknowledged by the British Book Awards (Independent Bookshop of the Year) and the Telegraph Best Small Shops award (Best Bookshop), while Bill’s management of the Mainstreet Deli saw them hailed Deli of the Year by the Farm Shop and Deli Awards.
From their creative conversion of an atmospheric auction house, to converting a Citroen H Van into a beautiful book-mobile for outreach events, to implementing customer-focussed innovations during COVID-19, Mainstreet Trading are always visionary, always committed to going the extra mile. If you’ve ever fantasised about running your own bookshop, read on to be inspired by Rosamund’s account of Mainstreet’s exhilarating journey.
Describe your shop in three words.
Friendly, warm, enthusiastic
When was your bookshop born? How did it come about?
We opened in 2008, mid-recession, the rise of Amazon and eBooks, so not ideal. It evolved out of my experience as a publisher (at Bloomsbury Children’s Books), selling books to increasingly soulless chain booksellers, I wanted to sell books to the actual ‘end reader’. I’d moved home to Scotland with my family in 2003, so commuting to London couldn’t last forever.
The Mainstreet premises (two buildings around a courtyard) had more recently been used as a rather wonderful (if very scruffy/rundown) auction house. Located in a village in the heart of the rural Scottish Borders, it wasn’t the most obvious location and most thought we were mad. Something about the buildings just seemed right, it had huge potential, and could never have worked as a bookshop alone. So, our first phase was planned as a bookshop/café with parking, the idea being we would grow into the space and always have a project on the go.
Tell us about your journey and the changes you’ve made along the way.
From the beginning we wanted to put the physical space at the heart of the business, drawing customers from far and wide, and create a mini brand with great design. Having launched the bookshop/café in 2008, in 2012 we then renovated the barn (we’d been using the large open plan first floor for some of our larger author events) to create a Deli and Home shop which felt like a big step forward, necessarily increasing our staff team and expanding our customer reach.
We grew our events programme over the years, but found children’s events tricky as our rural location required expensive travel arrangements. So, in 2015, we converted a beautiful Citroen H Van to create a mobile book van – the idea being to break down barriers between children, books, authors and bookshops. When the first lockdown hit, we went created an online bookshop in 48hrs and introduced numerous new ideas – including our Care Packs (often a book with a bar of chocolate and bath ‘shot’), self-isolation book subscriptions (adding to our existing book subscriptions) and numerous other ways of making ourselves stand out in the crowd, always focusing on making our deliveries look and feel special. We are about to launch our next-phase website, a hugely ambitious project, perhaps one of the few silver linings of lockdown.
What’s important in a great bookshop,? What sets you apart and makes you special?
A good bookshop needs to care about putting the right book into the right hands. We believe this very strongly, so much so that we would actively discourage a customer from buying a book if we felt it was wrong for them. Any bookshop lives and dies on its team. We are very lucky in having lots of committed, long-term staff who go the extra mile in terms of sharing their love of books, but also, care for our customers generally. In terms of what sets us apart… So far as I know, we are the only bookshop/café/deli/home shop in the UK.
What’s your all-time favourite… - very hard question for a bookseller!
-novel to recommend to adults?
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
-non-fiction to recommend to adults?
Educated by Tara Westover
-picture book recommendation?
Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers
-children’s fiction recommendation?
Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean
Which books have you been recommending recently?
What’s your favourite area of your bookshop?
The Book Burrows – these are two audio listening dens for children – much missed by customers during Covid.
What are you most proud of?
That we managed to make a success of such an improbable location, and that we have continued to innovate and attract an eclectic, wonderful mix of staff. And, that our lovely customers come in every day (when not in lockdown) and buy our books, full price, when they know most are available at a discount online.
Tell us a secret about books.
They can make you forget where you are – a power we all need right now.
Apart from your own shop, which other bookshop(s) do you love spending time in?
I’ve long been planning a tour of UK bookshops (there are SO many I want to see Book’ish, Booka Books, Little Toller…), but it’s tricky to escape, let alone in these times. Given the time, I really enjoy the space and vibe of Portobello Bookshop and Golden Hare (both Edinburgh), Forum Books (Corbridge) plus Lutyens & Rubenstein in London.
What else would you like to share with the LoveReading community?
Come and visit! Or, failing that, visit us online or our social media, Courtney, who runs this side of things is especially brilliant on Instagram, though I can only apologise in advance of the mouth-watering photos of coffee and cake.
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