Bookshop of the Month: The Big Green Bookshop

By Deborah Maclaren on 18th June 2018

We love a good book, we do. You might have guessed?

We cherish a hardback when the book is right and when we can’t wait any longer to read it.

We love a paperback due to it’s cheaper price tag but the decisions don’t stop there.

We love audiobooks in the car and we love ebooks on the move although the printed word will always be the closest to our heart.

And then what, where? After we’ve decided what we’re desperate to read, and we’ve saved the books to our digital Bookshelf, we need to decide where to go next.

We are all fans of our beloved libraries and when time and money is tight, buying online is the only option. But we also absolutely treasure time browsing in independent bookshops. We love it, love how much our local stores have upped their game to compete with digital retailers – and are flourishing. So we are here to celebrate these hidden gems and share them with you, our friendly bookworms. Each month, we’ll pick a different store around the nation and tell you why they are so fabulous.

Enjoy our first..

June

The Big Green Bookshop, Wood Green, London 

1 Brampton Park Rd, Wood Green, London N22 6BG

020 8881 6767

Tim West and Simon Key opened the Big Green Bookshop in March 2008. They love their books and from personal experience we know they do their very best to make sure that when you leave you’ll look forward to going back again. I certainly did. I loved my time with them: the passion, the warmth, the banter, the incredible knowledge and the wonderful initiatives they spearhead for the good of the book industry and their community including #BuyAStrangerABook one of the most lovely things I’ve seen in some time, and the ground-breaking Independent Bookshop Alliance. Let me share our chat…

When was your bookshop born?

8th March 2008.  We are now 10 years old. We convinced Krispy Kreme to give us 100 donuts to celebrate. We both worked in Waterstones in Wood Green and it closed out of the blue. There was no bookshop in Wood Green and rather than relocating to another store, we agreed to open our bookshop.

Talk to me about the journey and the changes you have seen over the years

In September 2007 we started a blog called 'Open a bookshop', what could possibly go wrong? 2 blokes, 1 bookshop, no idea. We started the blog to build the customer base before the shop opened. We had a competition to name our bookshop with all of the local schools where the children could win £50 to spend and cut the ribbon when it opens.

When we finally got the keys to the shop we relied on the goodwill of the community when we announced we were opening in a few days’ time and the next morning there was a dozen people outside the shop to help. The BBC picked up on it and gave us a camera so we could film the journey to opening.

Social media has given us a lot bigger voice. We have a great community following. On Twitter we have over 30,000 followers and this enables us to have customers that would never be our customers. We have a Monthly Book Club book subscription, where we send you a questionnaire and based on your answers, we send you a book each month.

We work incredibly hard but do anything to match a book to the individual. 

There has been lots of change. After 3 years, it went very quiet and with 9 months left to pay off our bank loan, we were struggling. We put something on the blog, my girlfriend said to be honest, it took a long time to get it right and it said, we love what we do, we hope you do, we’re in trouble. We asked that on the week of our birthday, for people to please come in and buy one extra book. The next day we took £1500 and it carried on for about a month. It was incredible. 

Describe your shop in three words

Community. Enthusiasm. Shambolic

How have you upped your game to compete with the rise of digital retailers?

There is a place for both Amazon and your local bookshops. Supermarkets have also had an impact. But we are also as an independent competing against the big boys. On the launch of the latest Philip Pullman book, Waterstones were awarded 5,000 copies of an exclusive edition. £175,000 for Waterstones. It happens all of the time but it really wound people up and there was an angry blog piece that was picked up by the press. I don’t blame anyone, if I had access to 200 bookshops, I would do the same but within the piece there were some interesting points mostly around trying to level the playing field. In January, I initiated discussions to try and develop the Independent Bookshop Alliance hoping that this would enable publishers to more confidently do an independent bookshop exclusive. It went mental, really crazy with 60-70 bookshops joining in the first few days and there are now about 120 bookshops interested in joining forces to give us more negotiating powers.

We are in the process of highlighting the major titles that we may want to talk to publishers about with a view to getting some form of exclusive indie only deal. 

What is important in a great bookstore?

Lots of things. Knowledge, being able to sell books, enthusiasm and accessibility. Some people aren’t big readers and the idea of going into a bookshop is terrifying. I compare it to me going into a bike shop. It’s about making people feel they can and it’s not a bad thing.

What sets you apart, what makes you so special?

We don’t necessarily get on all of the time and this is important. I can be a bit of a control freak and it was tricky to begin with. It works as we are so different. There’s so much stuff I’m rubbish at that Tim is brilliant at. We have completely different personalities. It doesn’t necessarily set us apart but it’s important and it works.

What are you reading right now?

I’ve just started a book called Melmoth which isn’t out until October but it’s by Sarah Perry who wrote The Essex Serpent and it’s brilliant. I’ve also recently read a book called In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne which is based in a London council estate over 2 days and looks at 6/7 individuals, very prevalent of what’s happening at the moment with racism. It’s staggering, it’s like nothing I’ve ever read. I’m championing this at the moment. 

What is your favourite book of 2018 so far?

It’s a toss up between In Our Mad and Furious City and Census by Jesse Ball. It’s about a guy who’s a single dad who has just been told he’s got terminal cancer and his son’s got down syndrome. He’s a census taker and he goes to each town and tattoos people as they take the census. It’s incredible, stunning. They are two really powerful important books

Do you have a favourite author? 

Yes, I do actually. It’s a guy called Mark Leyner. In the 90s there was a big American modern fiction scene. There were 3 big ones, 3 young hopefuls, Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace and Mark Lanier. The others were revered, and Mark Lanier was the forgotten one. He writes like nothing else I’ve ever read. It’s kind of stream of consciousness but like you’re on a rollercoaster, high on drugs and you don’t know what’s going to happen next but you must go on. It’s like marmite, so I don’t often recommend it as it can be a risk.  He stopped writing fiction about 15 years ago and about 3 years ago I saw he had a new book out. It was wild again and he’s bought another out since then.

What is your favourite genre?

Tim’s is fantasy. I read literary fiction, mostly for leisure but that’s also the genre most people are interested in so it works. I love it.

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

I love going to bookshops, I really do. There’s a really nice Waterstones in St Albans. There are some nice independents

What else do our members need to know about you?

We launched the #BuyAStrangerABook last month and promote this every Wednesday on Twitter. 

For those close to Wood Green there are lots of regular events – Storytime & Songs for the Under 5s on a Monday and Friday, Reading Groups and a Writing Group. As well as these we have irregular events. On 26th June, Accidental Feminism: Novels Reflecting Historical Realities and An Evening with Will Eaves on 28th June.