For March’s bookshop of the month, we are delighted to have chosen the Bell Bookshop in Henley-on-Thames. We spoke to Hilary, the general manager, about the bookshop’s history, and the role they play in the local community.
1. Tell us about the history of the Bell Bookshop? How long has it been established, and who brought it to life?
The Bell Bookshop was set up in 1966 and has had only two owners in its 50 year history. Originally established by the Brunner family of Greys Court, it was bought by the current owner Michael Pooley in 1980, and he has owned it since then.
2. You have an impressive collection of around 20,000 titles in your store. Which books do you find to be most popular with your customer?
We have a real passion for reading and selling books, have established a reputation for delivering excellent customer service, and built up a very loyal customer base over several generations! Our customers are quite eclectic really, and read broadly across a whole range of subjects. Crime and popular fiction do very well, and there seems to be a growing demand for new Hardback Fiction, which is a bit of a surprise! Definitely a genre that is getting stronger for us. Current shop favourites include Tim Pears’ Horseman & Rory Clements Corpus.
We also do especially well with areas such as Travel & History, and our Children’s section is very strong for us, covering around a third of our current retail space. We feel passionately about our younger readers; it is so important to engage them in the whole process of reading and book-buying at an early stage; it will stay with them all through their lives!
3. As a bookshop in a small town, how do you play a role in the local community?
We have worked hard to establish good links within the local community and hold Book clubs & Author events whenever we can here in the shop. We have an active involvement with a number of local schools, and have recently been doing some story-telling sessions for a few during morning assemblies! Additionally, there is a very successful Literary Festival too in the town; 150 events alone last year, all in the space of 7 days! We provide all the books, and organise/run the signings. It is now in its 11th year & hugely popular; we are very proud of our continued involvement. It generates a real bookish-buzz during the Autumn months.
4. Henley is often associated with the rowing regatta. Does this event impact or influence the type of books you see being bought within your shop?
As a town that is well known for The Royal Regatta in July, we do see an increase in visitor numbers, mainly Americans, here to see the rowing. Many of our lovely local customers do tend to avoid all the traffic chaos by staying away however, so trade can be quite quiet during this week. We could do with a fabulous new glossy book about The Regatta and its history though, as there isn’t much in print at the moment. It could have enormous potential. Perhaps Yale could come up with something!
5. Do you have any exciting plans for the bookshop that you’d like to share here?
We had quite a smart make-over in September 2014 when we expanded our retail space and opened up our till area, which allowed us to develop our stationary and gift books area. This was due largely to being granted a James Patterson Award that summer. Watch this space; we are contemplating more changes, as yet still in the developmental stage.