For April’s Bookshop of the Month, we are delighted to have chosen Rossiter Books, a family run business that has locations in Monmouth, Ross-on-Wye and Leominster. We spoke to Andy, one of the shop’s managers, about the bookshop’s history and the role they play in the local community.
1. When you first founded Rossiter Books, did you have a bookselling vision? How has the shop developed and grown since then?
I had been managing Waterstones stores for years and we had been researching Independent Bookshops for a year when the Borders chain collapsed. This gave us a fairly cheap way of furnishing our store so we bought what we thought would represent two shops worth of fixtures and fittings. We lived between the towns of Ross-on-Wye and Monmouth and neither one had the kind of interestingly stocked, vibrant, community focussed, event heavy bookshop that we enjoyed as customers so that was our vision.
We opened another store in Leominster in 2018 which has been received well by the local community. The longer the stores are open the more you are led by what your customers are actually asking for or responding to. We had no idea that cycling was a massive sport around us when we opened but we now regularly host events featuring the top writers and riders (Geraint Thomas twice) in theatres and other local venues.
2. Do you find that being family-owned sets you apart from other independent bookshops? If so, how?
Most independents are family owned. We are all very different in our approach but anyone running their own business realises the stakes are higher when working to support yourself and family. The rewards are also far greater so setting your own agenda and trying to create a good work/life balance (I run Rossiter Books with my wife Victoria) is a nice part of the job. You never get to completely walk away and switch off though so late night emails and working at weekends are normal.
3. Under normal circumstances, Rossiter Books prides itself on being at the centre of the community. However, this has been a landmark and challenging year for independent bookshops around the world. How have you been able to maintain your connection and commitment to the local community?
This has been very difficult, especially during the lockdown months where our shops have been closed and our staff placed on furlough. We have maintained a steady online presence, posting on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. During the first lockdown we uploaded regular videos of staff members reading children’s stories, poetry and extracts of their favourite books.
Author Events are a large part of what we offer our local customers, so we moved to a digital program and have continued to offer online events throughout the year; specifically supporting local author book launches where possible. This month we are excited be holding events with Steven Walker, Barbara Erskine, and Andrew Taylor.
4. How do you go about choosing the books that line your shelves?
The large majority of our stock comes from publisher representatives who we meet with every few months. The Reps give us an overview of the key titles that are due to be released, and also pick out titles that they believe would specifically cater to our customers. Our staff play a big role in finding titles from smaller publishers or niche subjects that we might not come across naturally; they read a lot of reviews in magazines and newspapers, listen to interviews on the radio and in local papers, or delve into social media. It is really important for us to stock interesting and diverse books that browsers would not find easily unless they visited an independent bookshop. Lastly, we also take personal recommendations from our customers, who are often a very valuable source of information.
5. And finally, do you have any exciting plans for the shop in the coming months that you’d like to share with us?
Yes, we are going to open our doors to the general public again on April 12th! This Covid pandemic makes planning too far ahead a risky business so this is about as far forward as I’m planning at the moment.