For June’s Bookshop of the Month, we headed to the Lake District to visit Sam Read Bookseller. From Wordsworth, Coleridge and the Romantics, to John Ruskin, Beatrix Potter, EM Forster, Arthur Ransome and Malcolm Lowry, this award-winning independent bookshop in the heart of Grasmere lays claim to a number of impressive literary connections. Established by Sam Read in 1887, we spoke to Elaine, the current owner, about the shop’s celebrated history!
1. Named after the celebrated Victorian, Sam Read Bookseller is steeped in literary history. What’s it like running a bookshop with such a fascinating background?
It is most certainly a privilege to be the owner of such a prestigious bookshop!
When I bought it from my predecessor, Margaret Hughes (who had run the shop since 1969), I practically had to sign in blood to promise that I would keep the Sam Read bookselling name going. In fact, I’m only the sixth owner in the shop’s 134-year long bookselling history.
2. You’ve remained independent for almost 135 years, which you must be really proud of. Do you think being independent affects the way you do business or how you deal with customers? If so, how?
I’m sure being independent affects how we operate. Obviously, we can choose what we want to sell and this means we can offer our target audience exactly what they are looking for. Also, the service element is so crucial in what we do and, although a large proportion of our customers are spread out over the globe, they really do appreciate the lengths we go to source titles and supply them as quickly and efficiently as possible.
3. What’s it like running one of the oldest bookshops in the Lake District? How have you seen the area change over the years?
Apart from the Gingerbread shop, we are the longest serving shop in the village – everyone knows Sam Read’s and, although other businesses around us come and go, we so appreciate seeing successive generations of book-loving families come through our door. The Lake District, always historically a seasonal holiday destination, has seen trade bloom year round in more recent years. Sadly, we have lost most of our community-based businesses in favour of tourist-oriented ventures – my husband was born in the village and remembers butchers, garages, greengrocers, a bakery – indeed Grasmere, like most villages, was largely self sufficient. Fortunately, however, the bookshop continues to thrive, helped along too by the numerous literary connections we have here, ranging from Wordsworth, the Lake Poets and Ruskin, to Beatrix Potter, Arthur Ransome, and Alfred Wainwright, to name but a few.
4. Last year was a landmark and challenging year for independent bookshops around the world. Given the restrictions we’re all experiencing during this pandemic, how has Sam Read Bookseller fared?
There is no doubt that last year was a challenging one, as it was for all businesses. Despite our physical doors being closed, we adapted by creating a successful online shop as well as offering a click and collect service for people living nearby. We saw orders come in from loyal Sam Read customers far and wide and we were proud to be able to supply them with all their lockdown literary requirements.
5. And finally, do you have any exciting plans for the shop in the coming months that you’d like to share with us?
It is lovely, however, to have been able to re-open our doors in April and we are looking forward to a busy summer/autumn ahead – no special plans but hopefully lots of happy customers to keep the Sam Read name going into the future.