Our first Bookshop of the Month of 2021 is the newest independent bookshop on Teesside: Drake the Bookshop! This quaint and quirky independent was founded five years ago with a sense of community at its heart. We spoke to the shop’s manager, Mel, to find out more about this cosy and well-loved family-run bookstore.
1. What’s it like running an independent bookshop in Stockton on Tees? What do you hope your shop brings to the local area – both now as well as when it is business as usual?
Stockton is a funny place really! It’s a small industrial town set in the Borough of Stockton where quaint market towns rub shoulders with economically challenged industrial areas; where some of the poorest wards on the Government charts are literally a short walk from some of the most affluent. That said, there is a really strong sense of community and since day one Stocktonians have let us know how proud they are to have a real bookshop in their town.
Drake the Bookshop started out with the aim of making our shop a community hub, where people could meet in a safe, friendly space for book events, reading groups, writing classes, knit and natter groups, or just to meet up over a coffee. This sense of community was really brought home to us during this past year. We have been overwhelmed by the support our customers have shown us and also by the number of new customers who have found us and are really keen to support local their businesses – we lost our freedom but found our community.
2. How do you go about choosing the wide range of titles that you stock in your shop?
Like all independent booksellers, we are keenly aware that we cannot compete on price with online bookselling giants, or discount high street retailers. So we come at it from a different angle. We focus on offering a wider range of more unusual titles, often promoting smaller independent publishers, and showcasing local authors or books that won’t be stocked on the supermarket shelves. Drake the Bookshop aims for a broad range of interesting and beautiful books, side by side with more popular titles and our ‘Pocket Money’ books for younger readers.
3. What is a Lockdown Pharmacy Prescription and how did you come up with this exciting personalised shopping idea?
A lot of people found themselves ‘cut adrift’ during lockdown; they wanted to read but didn’t know what, and the lack of a bookshop to browse made the problem worse. So we hit upon the idea of ‘prescribing’ books to relieve those reading doldrums. We asked people to let us know what sort of books they liked, or what were their most recent reads, and then we chose a book on their behalf, gift-wrapped it and hand delivered it to their door during lock-down. It proved so popular we still offer the service on our website!
4. If you could recommend one book published in the past year, what would it be and why?
Should We Fall Behind by Sharon Duggal. I love books that share the same story through several protagonists’ different experiences. This book is set in one urban street and describes how different residents deal with the appearance of a homeless man who makes his home in an abandoned car. It’s a wonderfully uplifting story about the small changes people can bring to each other’s lives, and how connectivity and community can help people get unstuck and move forward. It’s published by small independent publisher Blue Moose who have only published books by women this year, and they have all been brilliant and well worth a read.
5. And finally, do you have any exciting plans for the shop in the coming months that you’d like to share with us?
We have some school events lined up for January and February, live via Zoom and we are looking forward to building on our excellent World Book Day Events last March when 1000 children enjoyed meeting 6 authors live in collaboration with the National Literacy Trust. Were also in the early planning stages of supporting some new local businesses. We’ve managed to weather 2020 relatively intact but aware that lots of businesses have not been so lucky. We want to give some shelf space to local people who have had to change careers during 2020 and are now trying to get a small business going. We’re thinking of small scale crafters and artists who would appreciate a leg up on the high street. Our first Makers’ Space will be a young man who’s started a paper crafting business making cards, bookmarks and bunting.