Books On The Hill, an independent bookshop situated in the heart of the historic city of St Albans, is our Bookshop of the Month for June. This lovely shop features a team of dedicated book collectors and reading enthusiasts who strive to match the right book with the right person. We spoke with Antonia, the shop’s Social Media and Events Manager, to find out more about this special shop.
1. What was it that inspired you to set up Books on the Hill in St Albans?
The shop was set up by my mum Clare who became inspired to open a bookshop whilst on holiday when the opportunity to buy a bookshop came up. However, my siblings and I did not want to relocate so looking closer to home for spaces became her priority. My retirement dream was to run a bookshop so I started that journey a few decades early by partnering up with my mum to open Books On The Hill. We opened our doors on 11th November 2019, a few hours earlier than expected due to the incredible queue forming at 9am down Holywell Hill.
2. Tell us more about the beautiful historic building Books on the Hill occupies.
The space we occupy has had many different lives since its construction in c. 1600. From being a tearoom run by Mr and Mrs Hayes in the 1950s until the mid-1980s (known as the Pilgrims Rest) to most recently having been a furniture shop (known as Wesley Barrell) the shop has had many different uses. But its purpose of being a space for the public to enjoy has remained a constant. We also have a fun resident ghost who is a monk travelling from the cathedral in the secret tunnels running below the city where he does the flower arranging.
3. Stocking an entire bookshop from the ground up must have been a daunting and exciting task back in 2019. How did/do you choose the books that line your shelves?
Before we first opened our doors my mum undertook months of research, whilst the shop was being renovated, to curate our initial collection. After our doors opened, we used our teams’ skills to help curate to widen and develop our collection further. Today every member of staff has a say in the books on our shelves, helping to create a wide range of incredible material covering a wide array of categories. Our team reads an array of material which they regularly review for our shop blog which you can read on our website and our shop tags which you can find on books around the shop (both new and our vintage collections).
4. Do you find that being family-owned sets you apart from other bookshops? If so, how?
All indie bookshops are an incredible asset to their communities but as a family-owned business, our shop outlook includes a unique perspective as different generations put forth their ideas into every aspect of the running of the shop. Additionally, our work ethic goes above and beyond normal office hours, with mum and I answering questions on social media (no matter the time) and dedicating extra time to help our customers, both local and global, with their book queries.
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 have lots of events coming up, most excitingly our Festival of Culture which takes place from the 2nd to 10th July 2022 in St Albans and online with author talks from authors such as Claire Fuller, to workshops, drawing classes, podcasts and a range of children’s events including a fun family trail. Our main aim when creating our lineup of events was to ensure that there is something for everyone at our Festival. All the details can be found on our website www.books-on-the-hill.co.uk or feel free to pop in store.