While all retail sectors have been hit hard by pandemic restrictions, few are feeling the pinch more than small independent stores – and, in particular, bookshops. Even before the pandemic, many book stores were facing increased competition from the likes of Amazon and, with physical shops closed for much of the last year, the capital is at risk of losing many of these businesses.
Which would be a real shame because, from book signings with big-name authors to live readings for children, independent bookshops offer a vital place for communities to come together to discover and discuss new works. Not sure where to find your local independent bookshop? Read on for our pick of the finest, each of which has been shortlisted for the Independent Bookshop of the Year award at this year's British Book Awards.
Village Books, Dulwich Village
The site on which Village Books now stands, in the heart of pretty Dulwich Village, has been home to a bookshop in one form or another for more than 95 years. Now run by Hazel Broadfoot, and her crack team of dedicated bibliophiles, Village Books offers an award-winning range of titles (currently available to buy online) along with a busy events programme for adults and children. Mary Berry, Michael Morpurgo, Yotam Ottolenghi and Michael Palin have all graced the store with their presence while Village Books has also been hosting live streamed talks with authors including Hadley Freeman, Anna Jones and Dermot O’Leary during lockdown.
Pages of Hackney, Hackney
This small East London bookshop has been offering Hackney residents an eclectic and well-curated mix of fiction and non-fiction titles, including some carefully-selected vintage and second-hand tomes, since 2008. It pays particular attention to works by under-represented and marginalised voices, supported by its diverse range of author events; recent highlights have included online discussions between Raven Leilani and the Black Girls Book Club and Lola Olufemi in conversation with Amelia Horgan. Pages of Hackney also houses a selection of LPs from The Record Deck, a record store on a narrowboat that specialises in classic vinyls, in its basement.
Goldsboro Books, Covent Garden
Looking for something special? Covent Garden’s Goldsboro Books specialises in signed, first edition hardbacks from classic and contemporary authors, as well as rare, limited and special editions. The shop was founded by David Headley and Daniel Gedeon in 1999, and while Goldsboro’s range spans almost every genre and era, the pair personally select new titles. In 2013, the store gained international fame for being the only bookstore in the world to have signed copies of The Cuckoo’s Calling before its author, Robert Galbraith, was revealed to be J.K. Rowling. The pair are keen to share their expertise so, if you’re looking to buy for investment, this is the bookshop for you.
Gay’s The Word, Bloomsbury
Originally opened in 1979 by a group of gay socialists, this community-centred store in Bloomsbury is also the capital’s oldest LGBT bookshop. Now managed by a small team led by Jim MacSweeney, who has been at Gay’s The Word since 1989, the store stocks a wide range of LGBT-centric titles and is also home to an array of community and literary events. Alongside signings, author discussions and book launches, the Lesbian Discussion Group has been meeting at Gay’s The Word for more than 40 years, while Trans London and the London LGBT Book Group are also regulars.
Burley Fisher Books, Haggerston
If your main reason for opting for online retailers over local book stores is a concern about the range available, allow Burley Fisher to dispel your worries. The East London bookshop has access to more than 4.5 million titles, all of which can be dispatched same day. As such, the shop also specialises in introducing customers to fresh, undiscovered voices and books by independent publishers. With the physical store closed, its podcast, blog and ‘Ask A Bookseller’ online service have kept this momentum going while, at the tail end of 2020, Burley Fisher launched a service delivering subscribers a new small press fiction or poetry book each month.
Hewson Books, Kew
One of a pair of bookshops in Kew and Sheen, this family-oriented store is the perfect place for helping little readers nurture their love of books. Offering a largely mainstream range of titles for both adults and children, Hewson Books hosts regular author events, signings and live readings and is staffed by an expert team always ready with a recommendation. In addition, the store works with local schools to host books fairs, author visits and curate reading lists to supplement the standard curriculum.