Our Bookshop of the Month this month is the beautiful Kemps General Store, which was founded in 2017 by Liz Kemp, a shopkeeper’s daughter and passionate advocate of her now-home town, Malton. Alongside curating a range of imaginative and mostly UK made products, Liz has set out to re-create the welcoming and vibrant atmosphere her parents cultivated over 40 years ago. Read on to learn more about this emporium of the beautiful and unusual, and its extensive book collection!
1. What is the vision behind Kemps General Store & Bookshop?
The vision behind the creation of Kemps was to bring something different to our High Street. I wanted to create a place of interaction not just transaction. Somewhere where people felt a connection to and an engagement with the business and could really find everything they needed in terms of gifting and since 2020 – in terms of books too. Our challenge is always to curate an unusual collection of things to bring joy and encourage people to return with curiosity and anticipation for new discoveries.
2. What inspired you to set up your shop in Malton? How have you seen the town change over the years?
Malton is a market town in North Yorkshire. When I lived here 20 years ago it was struggling to find an identity and was challenged as business came and went and it failed to attract visitors or to meet the needs of its local community. In the past 10 years, this has really changed through a great deal of hard work and a good vision driven by the main landlord in the town making it initially a foodie destination and producing many key events and festivals throughout the year which attract many visitors and raise the profile of the town. New businesses have grown up around these artisan food producers and eateries.
Kemps was one such business starting in 2017 with a gift shop with a small book offer and then moving into larger premises in 2020 and adding a proper bookshop. There is now a growing number of creative businesses joining and an art trail is being initiated this year so there is plenty to shout about here and it really is a terrific destination for a day out.
3. How do you go about choosing the books that line your shelves?
We are still learning our market to a degree despite being trading on paper for 18 months because COVID closed us for many of those months. Bestsellers are not why people visit us. Our visitors and customers love to browse and discover different and unusual things and our nonfiction collections of nature writing and history are particularly appreciated. We have a children’s book specialist and work hard to offer a good collection of children’s fiction and non-fiction, offering support to parents and schools in choosing titles as well as offering opportunities for young readers to discuss and share what they enjoy reading and work with them to continue the journey of discovery with new titles to support their ongoing reading for enjoyment. We also stock and recommend specialist children’s publishing like Barrington Stoke to support those who might be reluctant readers.
It is our biggest joy to thrill people who find a title they did not even know existed but know they will love, or to start people on a journey with an author or a series when they keep coming back for more.
4. What made you decide to open a general store? What is your favourite/least favourite part about it?
The idea behind the General Store title was twofold. I was brought up in a village shop which sold everything – that is where my shopkeeping genes come from. I also moved to London in the 1980s and there was an amazing shop called The Covent Garden General Store which sold all kinds of amazing and usual things – I just loved that place. So, I decided that being a General Store would enable me to sell whatever I liked – and that is what I did. Over time our 500 or so book collection was so appreciated we decided that our little town needed a proper bookshop so we decided to become one. General gifting will always be part of our offer but being a bookshop has been an absolute joy and taking the step of expanding during COVID, scary as it was, was absolutely the right decision.
Meeting and interacting with the customers is my favourite part of having a shop – closely followed by choosing and buying the stock. As you might imagine – finance, accounting and bill paying are my least favourite part of the business.
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 are continuing to develop our profile as a book shop and extend our events programme. This year Alison Weir will visit Malton again after her successful event for us last year and we have a number of food writers who will be taking to the main stage at the Malton Food Festivals this year which gets over 50,000 visitors. In June we will be hosting a new local authors event and also workshops for new writers to help them get published by bringing in publishers and writers to share tips and advice on how to get started.
We continue to work with the local professional theatre company sponsoring events with them and the summer will see some exciting activities and shows around Winnie The Pooh and other bears in books. Our autumn and winter programmes will focus on a Skandi Christmas with a Skandi Noir festival of events in the final quarter of the year. So, it’s a busy time for Kemps and an exciting future we hope.