November’s Bookshop of the Month is Red Lion Books located in the heart of Colchester. Offering wide-ranging stock, an overnight order service, author events, book clubs and a downstairs gallery space, we spoke with Jo to find out more about this family-owned independent. Read on to learn more!
1. What was the vision behind setting up Red Lion Books?
Sarah and Peter Donaldson have been hands-on owners and booksellers since 1978, imparting their knowledge and experience to customers and staff members. Sarah’s passion is for children’s books and she is still very much involved with curating this section of the shop and advising at local schools. Peter has been active in the Bookseller’s Association at a regional and national level. He has also been a trustee of the Essex Book Festival since 2011. It has always been their firm belief that brick-and-mortar shops have an important part to play in keeping local communities strong and healthy, and that words have power.
2. How do you select the books that line your shelves? Have you noticed any bookselling trends lately?
We pride ourselves on our carefully curated stock. Our non-fiction shelves blend beautifully, starting with Nature, moving onto Britain & Beyond, which takes itself into History. History naturally moves to Politics and Ideas. Ideas are obviously about Science and Maths and this eventually leads to Fiction.
We do traditionally well with Nature and History but the current trend, for us, is the increased interest in YA titles. This is a combination of things. We moved our YA titles away from the children’s books and the new area has been given a new lease of life. The TIK TOK phenomenon has also generated sales, and there seems to be a general love of bookshops from younger customers.
3. If you could recommend one book published in the past year, what would it be and why?
That’s like asking us to choose our favourite child! Please don’t make us do that. We do offer a ‘bibliotherapy’ questionnaire to customers so that we can recommend something we feel would suit them.
4. Do you find that being family-owned sets you apart from other bookshops? If so, how?
Being family-owned means that we are not a faceless entity. Customers know Peter and Sarah. They appreciate their work ethic because they see them in the shop, physically working. Customers’ children and now grandchildren know the family and this familiarity gives our customers a sense of ownership and belonging.
5. And finally, do you have any exciting plans for the shop in the coming months that you’d like to share with us?
Events! We have always got events but this year we introduced the idea of a ‘Bookshop Party’ – A Soiree where authors host the party: pouring drinks, running the tombola and socialising with customers.