This interview was printed in Issue 4 of Handmade Nottingham Magazine
When was the shop set up and who is involved?
I work with my father, and he set up the first shop in 1987, he was a miner and he worked at Newstead colliery. The colliery was closing and was given the option of redundancy, or early retirement, he was the youngest guy at the pit at the time, he was 50. A week later, or less, the colliery closed and the mines were all closed. So he decided to do something different, he had been buying and selling books from the auction across the road at Neal’s and realised that there was a market to make a living from it.
So, a shop became available in Sherwood and he set up his first shop there, at that time I was working a place called Keywood Textiles so I wasn’t involved at the time.
In 1990 the shop we are in now (which had been a shop since 1985) the two guys who own it wanted to sell, the shop was only really run by one of them and he was emigrating to Tasmania. The shop had been up for sale for two years and nobody wanted it, my dad saw that there was a good viable business here and he asked me if I would be interested in coming into the business with him. We then had the two shops and we could run them together.
And the shop we are in now?
The history of this shop, there were two guys who set the shop up in 1978. There names were Pete Jermy and Roger Westerman, but it was only really run by one of them, Pete Jermy. Roger was a silent partner, he would do one weekend a month. Pete’s family were already in Tasmania so, he, his wife and children decided to move over there, where he set up a secondhand bookshop in a small town where he is still selling.
We had the two shops, the Sherwood shop had to close unfortunately about two years ago, the market in second hand books has changed. In Sherwood we were always competing with the local charity shops, and when it got to ten shops, we were just fighting a losing battle. So we closed it up and concentrated on this one and expanding internet sales.
Where do you source most of your books from?
In the past it was the auctions, we were a conduit, it was like a tunnel from here to Neal’s auction house across the road where all the books that came in just siphoned into here in their volumes, we are talking tonnage that we would get through in a week. Those days are gone, there still are auctions but the type of stock isn’t what it was. So now it is mostly through contacts, people know we are here so they call us up and either they send us details or if they aren’t too far away we might visit to see what they have.
Did internet sales have an effect on business?
Massive. It’s changed things drastically. It started really with computers, before the internet came along, you could see the impact from CD-ROMs. There was then a drop-off in the sales of encyclopedias because they could buy it as a CD-ROM, the internet came along, with information on any subject you can think of. A reference book in general would be better than a website on a subject area, but its the convenience, if you can access a website from a computer, and now from your phone, you don’t need to go and buy a book on the subject. That has cut out a lot of custom base, people used to come to the shop because they needed a book about gardening or cookery, or maybe something related to school work for their children.
Do you have a good mix of customers?
Oh yes, we have people who have been coming in since we first opened. When we first started we had a custom base that was regional, but also national. People would travel to Nottingham to visit the book shops, back then there were 8 book shops in Nottingham, and some book dealers who didn’t have shops made a living by selling to the trade and going to book fairs. Now its just us, collecting was very much a 20th century pastime and so people grew up collecting stamps and coins and birds eggs, and then gravitate to books. As those people have retired they haven’t been replaced by their children, who may be in their 30s, 40s or 50s now. There are other competing options for them when it comes to their spare income and time. There isn’t the market for 8 shops anymore!
Can you source specific books?
There are search services out there, there are traders and book shops that will do that. Mostly they will just search online, which you could do yourself. But they may be a bit more savvy and know who to contact to get hold of something for you. For us its pot luck, its like a lucky dip every time we buy a collection of books, we have been full in the recent past with books about Swedish American migration. Really interesting, but the target market is pretty narrow! You never know what is going to turn up. If customers want a bit of enjoyment in browsing then you can’t beat it.
What is the filing system in the shop, are things in a random order?
It goes by subject area, and then ‘is there a space that’s big enough?’. There is a rough alphabetical order in the fiction section, but everything else goes on the pile!
Your new cafe, when did that start?
October last year. We wanted to do it but never got round to it. If you’d seen what the shop used to look like in the back you’d realise how much work it took to get it to this stage. We had to do it though, the floor needed replacing. Once that had been done and we had all the books out we thought it would be a nice extra option for customers so if they want to come in and have a coffee and a sit down then they can, it makes it a bit more relaxing!
When is your busiest time of year?
There is a bit of a build up to Christmas, the busiest times are normally October to December then a bit of a lull, and then February to May. The summer can be hit and miss, because you lose a few regular customers, but then you gain a few back too from people who have been living away, in London say, but they know we are here so they will pop in. Also tourism helps. Students used to be the bread and butter for second hand book shops, but now they don’t need to buy their textbooks second hand we mainly just get the ones who want to read for their own pleasure.
What is the oldest book you currently have in the shop?
We have a pre printing press handwritten piece of manuscript!