So the time has finally come and I’m moving on from Dulwich Books, leaving the bookshop that I loved and where I’ve worked for 12 years. It’s been a fantastic roller coaster ride and now is the right time to step back. Susie’s investment in the shop is an amazing commitment to the future of Dulwich Books and she is perfectly placed to drive her vision forward.
What will I miss you might ask? Well you, I’ll miss you our customers and yes you the publishers and of course authors. The best time in any bookseller’s career is finding a great read and sharing that book with customers. My favourite phrase when I saw a customer was “great to see you, I have the perfect book for you”. Or customers returning saying how much they enjoyed the book we recommended them.
Sharing knowledge of great reads and new authors is a love and a mission that will not leave me. The customers of Dulwich Books were wonderfully supportive of me and the bookshop and, even now as I bump into them in local shops or on the train, they share their thoughts with me. Over the years we never felt like a small team of 5, it was like us and our customers together, meeting the challenges of eBooks and Amazon head on. Anchoring the bookshop at the heart of our local community, making it a place where anyone could pop in for a browse, chat or a friendly face is an achievement I am very proud of.
For me, that is the key to success for any small retail business, your customers. Of course you need someone to create the product to sell, yes you need a company to put it together, however if no one will buy the product then none of the businesses in the supply chain can function as commercial businesses.
I have some wonderful specific memories from those 12 years, one of which and certainly the highlight was being voted the best independent bookshop in UK and Ireland 2014. I can still see Dave, Chloe’s and Annie’s faces when they called out Dulwich Books at the awards ceremony and the following morning we were unable to work due to the proudest smiles.
I know many people thought we were bonkers but we did enjoy the madness that was hosting 75+ events in a year. Our customers really appreciated that they could walk down the road to their local bookshop and hear an inspiring and fascinating discussion about
books. Memorable events such as the discussion between Cathy Rentzenbrink and Max Porter or managing the queue for Julia Donaldson that snaked around the block. And I will always have a fondness for the wonderful Victoria Hislop – the only author to bring us a present to say thanks for hosting an event to promote her book.
We were lucky enough that when Philip read Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries he thought it was so good he wanted to meet the author. So he contacted Eleanor direct and asked her for an event. The result was a brilliant chat between Eleanor and her editor Max Porter the evening before she won the Man Booker Prize.
Evenings like that are good for the soul.
It’s been brilliant as well to be part of the regeneration of the physical bookshop. I believe, maybe naively, that high street bookshops are in a strong position. If they survived the past 10 years of the eBook onslaught and Amazon they are true entrepreneurs. There may be less bookshops but the ones that are trading as standalone commercial businesses are stronger, more flexible to make decisions, and are working in close partnership with publishers. At the same time the best publishers now get that the physical bookshop may not make a bestseller but is critical and essential to putting books in front of customers. With both bookshops and publishers working together, pulled along by a reinvigorated Booksellers Association, it feels to me that it’s a team effort. We are all trying to reach the customers and with initiatives such as BAMB and Bookshop Day there is a feeling we are in this together and together is stronger.
So what next you might ask? It’s been a straight 19 years of work for me so a holiday is on the cards before hopefully returning to a role in the world that I love – books. A role involving books and championing new writers and great storytelling to readers would be my ideal job.
Thanks so much for your support in making Dulwich Books a great fun place to work and I wish Susie and the bookshop many more years of success.