We are proud to say that August’s Bookshop of the Month is The Portobello Bookshop, which opened in Edinburgh at the end of last month. Situated in a coastal suburb of Scotland’s capital, The Portobello Bookshop has opened its doors for the first time during a very exciting period in the city’s literary scene, with the annual advent of the Book Festival and new bookshops springing up left, right and centre. We spoke to owner, Jack, about the inspiration behind The Portobello Bookshop, as well as his hopes for the future.
1. What was it that inspired you to open up an independent bookshop, particularly in Portobello?
Like a lot of people I’ve always loved bookshops, they provide a space like no other to discover new stories, ideas, and make new connections. They’re always the first thing I seek out when travelling, and I’d always hoped to open one at some point. After putting in a few years in London working in commercial photography and realising it wasn’t for me long term, I moved back to Edinburgh, where I’d studied originally, and began looking for premises to open a shop.
Edinburgh itself already has a collection of great independent bookshops, and with location being so important for a business to survive – and not wanting to tread on anybody’s toes – I looked at premises away from the city centre. Portobello has a fantastic High Street and a thriving community, and is an ideal place for a bookshop – I’ve always been surprised there isn’t one there already. When I came across this former fishing tackle shop I thought it would make a really wonderful space to open a bookshop. After some deliberation (the premises are much larger than anything I’d intended originally so working out affordability took a while), I felt this could be something really unique.
2. Stocking an entire bookshop must have been a rather daunting and yet exciting task. How did you choose the books that now line your shelves?
Stocking has taken a lot of time and energy to get on top of. Our assistant manager, Alice, joined from Blackwell’s fairly early in the process and the two of us spent a couple of months working our way through piles of catalogues, spreadsheets, and using our own knowledge to put together a list of titles we thought was fairly representative of what we’re about, and which will hopefully appeal to a broad range of customers. Ensuring our list was diverse, unique and inspiring were key factors we had in mind. The last few weeks we’ve had another staff member join us, Sarah, who’s also been a great help in fleshing out our stock list. We’ve tried our best to ensure our opening stock is exciting and fresh, but there’s still plenty of books and publishers we look forward to having in the shop in future.
3. What are you hoping your shop will bring to the Portobello area?
Portobello and the surrounding areas don’t have a dedicated bookshop carrying new titles. If you want to browse for recent releases you’d have to travel into the centre of town. So first and foremost we’re bringing the opportunity to discover new books to the high street. Beyond that, once we get into the swing of bookselling and the shop is running smoothly, we’re going to start developing our events programme. Like our stock, this will be highly curated to ensure we bring great quality and unique events to the high street. We’ve also got a piano in the shop, and music will definitely play a part in our events programme.
4. This summer is an exciting time for the Edinburgh literary scene, what with the annual Book Festival and the opening of both The Portobello Bookshop and Topping & Company. What is it like being part of this particular cultural moment in the Scottish capital?
It’s brilliant. There’s a real buzz in Scottish publishing at the moment, with lots of interesting new publishers such as Charco Press and 404 Ink doing great work. And as you point out, there are new bookshops opening too, and it’s thrilling to be part of this movement. The competition from online giants and the small margins the book industry has to work with are always going to be a problem, but the revival of people supporting local businesses and physical stores is something that will hopefully continue.
5. And finally, do you have any exciting plans for the shop in the coming months that you’d like to share with us?
Our primary plan was to get the shop open during summer, and we’re really pleased that we’re going to be able to do that, and that people will soon be able to wander along the beach, pop in to a local cafe and then visit us for some book browsing afterwards. In terms of plans for the future, we’ve got a few things in the pipeline but I won’t jinx them by putting them out there just yet.