If you’re headed out to the countryside this summer, you should pop into the lovely town of Cheltenham, and have a browse in the Suffolk Anthology; our bookshop of the month. We chatted to the manager, Helene, about the challenges, perks and future plans for the shop…
1. You’re based in Cheltenham, which is in beautiful Cotswolds district. Do you think running an independent bookshop in this area brings its own set of perks or challenges?
Cheltenham has a thriving literary community, with an especially strong poetry scene. We have been lucky enough to host book launches and talks for a number of excellent local authors. On a practical note, it’s fantastic to have customers who are willing to interview authors, lead workshops and groups and introduce me to other local writers. We’re based in the Suffolks, a beautiful historic area of Cheltenham with a number of independent shops, cafes and restaurants, attracting locals and visitors alike. And while we love being close to the Cotswolds, we’re also blessed with a diverse, metropolitan population within the town, which is different to some of the smaller towns nearby.
In terms of the challenges, the local festivals are a great addition to the town, but unfortunately we miss out on sponsorship, and this contributes to the challenges when trying build our profile within the area.
2. Cheltenham is the home of the University of Gloucestershire – have you found that your customer base and their buying habits reflects Cheltenham’s growing student demographic?
A number of the lecturers have been supportive, organising ‘Suffolk Seminars’ in the shop on topics as diverse as nature writing, blues music, Marilynne Robinson and interpreting children’s picture book . Recently a number of students came to hear author Daisy Johnson talk in the shop.
3. Since you opened in 2015, how has your shop developed into what we see today?
Developing a relationship with local poets has led to me hosting regular workshops and a Poetry book club, as well as selling tickets for the Annual Poetry Festival and books at events. As we have gotten to know our customers we have brought in new titles from an increasing range of publishers and it is wonderful that customers visit regularly to discuss purchases and ask for advice on new titles.
We have four book clubs; one for older children, two for adult readers, and the poetry book club, all of which are very well supported. We exhibit artworks and sculptures by local artists, and stock a unique range of cards, most of which are from independent presses – they attract a lot of customers to the shop who are then enticed to buy a book!
4. You run events and host authors in store – what’s your favourite type of event to run, and what kind of customers are usually drawn to them?
We have had a couple of really memorable evenings recently – nature writer Christopher Somerville helped make his event a warm and funny evening, and it was lovely to have Salley Vickers speak about her latest book, Cousins, just a few weeks ago, in a larger venue nearby. However it is also very special when we welcome first-time authors into our shop, and see them discuss their writing and plans for the future.
5. Do you have any exciting plans for your store that you’d like to share here?
We are planning to redecorate downstairs this summer. There will be a competition to decide on a new mural to go in our children’s area and, on a more prosaic note, we’re also improving the lightning and carpeting downstairs. We are keen to increase our support for local schools, particularly in more deprived areas of the town and have recently supported an initiative to give each child a book to read and discuss in class.
To find out more about Suffolk Anthology, head to their website, or follow them on Twitter. Or, if you’re local (or even if you’re not!), pop in store.