To the Future and Beyond

The word is out, the dream is becoming a reality.

Booka Bridgnorth is being built.  Tim of all trades is busy painting the shop-front, local builders GMC have started the shop-fit.

We are on our way to being the proud owners of two independent bookshops.

Are we crazy? Gluttons for punishment?

Probably, but it feels like the manifestation of our long-held belief that High Streets deserve bookshops.  Bookshops are a very special kind of retail.  Booka (like many other bookshops) offers an experiential and community led retail model.  A place for people to immerse themselves in books, engage in conversations, connect with others, escape the realities of life and feel inspired all through the medium of books and book related activities and events.

Honestly, it feels like the right time.  The last few years have been a struggle for most retailers.  The High Street has suffered hugely with big chains failing and independents having to pivot dramatically and in multiple ways to respond to changing consumer habits.

We have to give our consumers the best experience possible.  We have to add value to their every day.  Discounting is not our model.  We are all about the physicality of the bookshop and books.

Location is a key factor.  Oswestry is a historic market town with a good-sized population and a large hinterland to draw on.  It is a creative place with a unique position on the border of England and Wales.  The birthplace of literary heroes – Wilfred Owen and Barbara Pym.

We have been looking to open a second bookshop for a while, but were de-railed by Covid and then we lost our confidence and our energy.  Last year we got back on track.  We knew that we could do it and wanted the opportunity to grow our business and build on what we had learnt.

Bridgnorth had been in our minds for a while and on an initial visit over a year ago we spotted what we thought would be an ideal bookshop.  Bridgnorth has similarities to Oswestry – historic market town (the third largest in Shropshire) but with more of a tourist pull particularly for people from the Midlands and Black Country.  Day trippers, escaping the industrial landscape for a stroll by the River Severn, a meander through low town and high town via the Cartway, a ride on the Victorian funicular railway or the Severn Valley railway, a visit to the many independent shops and the opportunity to explore the characterful architecture and history of the town.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.  The landlord offered it to someone else before we were able to get all our ducks lined up.  It was disappointing.  We felt deflated, but after talking to other booksellers who have opened second and third bookshops, we got our confidence back and re-visited Bridgnorth in late October last year.

It was meant to be.  We spotted an empty shop that was advertised for ‘Let’.  It had recently undergone some renovation and seemed the perfect fit in terms of size and location on the High Street.  It felt a little bit like when we spotted 26-28 Church Street and knew that this was the perfect location for starting our Bookshop journey in Oswestry all those years ago, before we really understood what bookselling was.

We had such a good feeling and were determined not to let this one slip through the net.  We wanted to prove to not only ourselves but our team that we were serious and capable of opening a second shop.

The Booka team have been tremendous.  They have had to listen to Tim and I talk about a second bookshop for quite a while and although at times they may have had doubts and had to put up with our distractions and failures to launch, they have supported us and been excited about the expansion too.  In the next six months their dedication and Passion for Books and Booka will be vital to allow Tim and I to step out of the four walls of our existing shop, to launch Booka Bridgnorth.

From October last year, to signing the lease this August has felt like a painfully slow process.

For months Tim and I had been dropping hints to our customers.  At our Booka Social in June we told ‘The Story of Booka’ and revealed that we were going to open in Bridgnorth BUT we still hadn’t signed the lease!

However, from all my business book reading and podcast listening – manifesting by vocalising our plans for a second bookshop has been a driving force in making sure it actually happens.

It’s been heartening for Tim and I to see the response to the announcement from our existing customers but also from the Bridgnorth community.

From authors like Annie Garthwaite who wrote Cecily – one of our Books of the Month in 2021.  If you’ve not read this sumptuous, historically thrilling fictionalised story of Cecily Duchess of York, then you should.  Annie has already been spreading the word for us in Bridgnorth.  Her support is very much appreciated and we are delighted that she will be one of our local authors.  Can’t wait for her next book.

Similarly, Ludlow author Liz Hyder is another local author whose books we love.  Have you read The Gifts?  An awesome, gothic tale – again historical but with a mix of magical realism, telling the story of three women, in Victorian London, against the backdrop of science, religion and nature.  Again this was a Book of the Month pick for us and her latest novel The Illusions was our Book of the Month in July this year.  Liz has been hugely enthusiastic and supportive and we look forward to working with her again in Bridgnorth.

Amy Beashell – lives in Bishop’s Castle.  She has written previously for YA but this year has written her first book for adults, ‘Spilt Milk’ – a contemporary and emotive exploration of motherhood that asks important and provocative questions about who owns women’s bodies and the fall-out of the choices women make on themselves, their family and society. It is brilliantly breath-taking. Again, Amy’s book was our Book of the Month in March this year and we have hosted several events with her.  My colleague, Amy and I ran 13K last September in support of Amy Beashell’s 26 mile run from Shrewsbury to Oswestry to raise money for Shrewsbury Samaritans.  She is not only a talented author but an author whose novels are helping to ‘do good’ by raising awareness.  She is one to watch.

Mike Parker – author of Map Addict, Wild Rover, On the Red Hill and most recently, All the Wide Border, is another of our favourite authors who now lives in Machynlleth but is originally from Kidderminster.  He again has been so encouraging of us opening in Bridgnorth and this has given us confidence that we are not crazy booksellers.

Our aim in Bridgnorth is to develop a regular events programme, to set up Bookclubs, to work with schools.  In order to deliver all of this, we need great people on our team.  The recruitment drive has started.  We are looking for a full-time ‘Experienced Bookseller’ and some ‘Part-time Booksellers’.

It’s an exciting time for us and a great opportunity for anyone who has a ‘passion for books’.

If you are keen to apply and think you have the skills and experience, follow the link below to find the Job Description and ways to apply.

We hope to be open by the end of September.  This will be a double celebration.  Booka Oswestry will be 14 years old on 3rd October – what better way to move into the future than by opening a second Bookshop.

Bridgnorth – here we come.  The new Chapter in our Bookselling journey begins.  We hope you will come and visit us and support us as we establish ourselves on your High Street and get to know the local community.

  • Carrie