Bookshops with a novel approach

by Kate Barnwell


It is a truth universally acknowledged that anyone in pursuit of a good book must be in want of a good bookshop.

It’s time to put spring in your steps and stroll along the path less travelled, somewhere off the beaten track.

There is a novel approach to selling the humble book so experience these encouraging encounters and remember books don’t have a shelf-life.

Chances are you’ll buy something totally unexpected and have a story attached to the tale you bought.  So, take a leaf out of my book and walk through a small door, resembling the entry to a white stable block on West Street, Hastings Old Town; here, like Alice, you’ll discover a small wonderland.

Hare & Hawthorn: Bindery & Bookshop (01424 429909)

Within, there is a pleasing scent of serenity; a visual kaleidoscope of literary wonders. Every space, corner, wall, shelf and table offers a colourful display of books, paper and posters.  The calm, dedicated and understated owner, Neal Neofitou studied book-binding.  He then experienced the corporate approach to book selling but it just wasn’t for him.  So quietly he went about choosing his own selection of beautifully-bound and attractively presented literature. He supports local authors (including me!) and offers a repair service, (a hospital for books to make them better and stronger again) bespoke binding, unique notebooks and personal photo albums.

As well as the revamped Agatha Christie novels in luggage-label style paper, bright and inviting children classics and grand collectors’ hardbacks, there are colourful handmade cards, Florentine paper, stationery items (to write thank you for my lovely book), and glass-framed posters of old book jackets.

This is an ‘ideas’ place, where I always find something irresistible.

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As a complete contrast go visiting, The Bookkeeper in Kings Road, St Leonard’s (phone: 07807 136641).  Here is Carol Dennard’s Art Deco fronted emporium, packed with used books looking for a new home and new books from local authors looking for recognition.  After a family bequest of books, Carol and her son Robert fulfilled a dream to open their shop and, finding suitable premises, “it all just fell into place.”

The charm and appeal of The Bookkeeper is its traditional interior with attractive themed window display, drawing you in to browse, chat and buy in a welcoming ambience. There are no frills, or tidy orderliness; it resembles something similar to your great uncle’s small library, where a literary masterpiece could well be uncovered.  I found a wonderful ‘cheap edition’ of Animal Farm with, and this is the joy of second-hand books, an inscription ‘To Mother from Michael, June 1951.’  Where are they now and did she enjoy this ‘fairy tale’? The answer is probably on a postcard…

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Our third bookshop, Bookbusters, 39 Queens Road, next door to Santander, (phone 01424 539726) was set up by book connoisseur and political enthusiast Tim Barton, replacing video-chain store Blockbusters.  The death of the VCR and video store has provided a home to a cornucopia of books and a resurgence in the reader’s quest for visual stimulation; for those of us who like the real thing rather than a computerised version, a printed copy gives a genuine tactile pleasure.  Inside his shop Tim has ensured every ounce of space from floor to ceiling is given over to a comfortably displayed, broad spectrum of carefully categorised reading.  From politics and military to children’s fiction and religion, the range is vast and varied with many remainders (end-of-run brand-new editions) or old-style publications.  Does Tim see a trend in reading?  The internet now holds the answer to reference subjects such as gardening, health and cookery so sales of books in these areas have shrunk.  Today people will search the net for their up-to-date answers – understandably really – however crime fiction and graphic novels are on the rise.  Readers now want to indulge in fantasy and drama with the flick of a real page.  Also on sale are a cross-section of vinyl, “for the DJs,” CDs and greeting cards.  Although footfall has supposedly fallen this side of the street, when I entered on a wind-swept Tuesday, several people were popping in and out, determinedly searching for something bookish. Tim has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the books, is ready and able to converse on a wide selection of subjects as well as find you the book you want. There are long shelves to contain an old gem in a bookworm sort of fashion; a style much lost in the cleansed and industrialised atmosphere of modern shopping.

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So, once upon a time you go wandering and you find interesting bookshops with interesting stories.

Support these bookshops, we want them to stay. Feed them your pounds, as they fill our minds…

The End.

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