This is a milestone weekend for us. Booka is celebrating its 10th birthday on the 5th and 6th October with special events, activities, discounts and surprises. We would not be where we are today without you, our wonderful, loyal customers. So, if you are able, come down and join us for cake, chat, discounts and a very important opening around 11 am with an exciting guest for the children.
After ten amazing years of bookselling in Oswestry, we thought this would be a great time to reflect on some of the highs of the last decade. It is a pleasure to devote this week’s blog to Booka co-owner Carrie Morris, who spared precious time this week to answer some questions about the triumphs and trials of ten years of independent bookselling.
What is the first book you remember reading as a child which had a profound effect on you?
“The first book I remember was The Hobbit by JR Tolkien. It was read to us by our class teacher and I became completely immersed in the language. Our teacher used to do all the voices and was particularly good at Gollum. I have since read it myself and it is one of my favourite books – I have a lovely illustrated version.”
You and Tim both had other jobs before you opened Booka. Had it always been your dream to open a bookshop?
“Surprisingly, no! I was teaching and Tim was a town planner. In 2008 I was looking for a change of direction and we had often chatted about a bookshop with a café. It seemed to fit the bill at the time.”
Can you remember what it was that made you finally decide to go for it?
“We planned the bookshop for about 18 months before opening. I went on a one day ‘Introduction to Bookselling Course’, we visited other bookshops and spoke to lots of booksellers, but that was it. I had previously worked in retail as a student. We both enjoy the shopping experience that you get in independent outlets and new what type of bookshop we wanted to create.”
You opted for a nice light blue and red theme in your branding. Why these colours?
“We wanted to create ‘the model of a modern bookshop’ and that meant creating a space that was light, bright and airy. The colours we chose reflected that and still work for us today.”
How did you come up with the name Booka?
“It came from Tim’s Mum and Dad who had visited Iceland and there was a bookshop with a similar name. We wanted something short and memorable that reflected the product we are selling. We didn’t want to be Morris Books or Oswestry Books.”
Was there anything about running a bookshop that nobody had told you about and you hadn’t prepared for?
“How physically demanding it is – lugging books for events or around the shop takes a lot of energy! Booka is more than just a bookshop, and our book selling is multi-channel: we sell books in the shop, online, at events, in schools. It takes so much organisation and hard work, but it’s worth it because we want to be the best bookshop we can be for our local community.
What are people’s main misconceptions about the reality of working in a bookshop?
“A lot of people think that you just spend the day reading! I don’t get to read as much as I would like. Most of our reading is linked to events or book clubs we run. I often get up early to read before work. It is only when we are on holiday that we get to choose what we want to read.”
During a hard day of work selling books, what would make you smile?
“Interactions with customers – putting the right book in the right hands. It is by far and away the best part of being a bookseller – the human contact and the feeling that you are making a difference to people’s lives. You are harnessing a community in the bookshop.”
How important are your staff to the success of Booka?
“We have such an amazing team who have been with us for the last 10 years. Our staff turnover is very low. The job is very demanding but everyone supports each other and works together to get things done. We couldn’t have achieved what we have without them.”
Do you remember any book which sold particularly well when you opened in 2009?
“Gosh it really is a blur – but it is the year that Wolf Hall was published and we certainly sold lots of that. It is one of best-selling Booker Prize Winners and one of my favourite historical fiction novels. Can’t wait for the final instalment next year.”
Which book do you think has sold best over the course of Booka’s lifetime?
“A book that we always have on our shelves and sell nearly every day is Deep Country by Neil Ansell. We have sold in excess of 800 copies without any event – just bookseller recommendation. It is a book we love and one of our highlights was to host an event with Neil for his latest book ‘The Last Wilderness’ a couple of years ago. He was such an inspirational person and spoke with such passion about the natural world.”
You have done many fabulous events over the years, but is there a particular event that sticks out as being extra special?
“Well, we have just hosted our largest children’s event with author, musician and Youtube Vlogger, Tom Fletcher. Over 850 local school children and their teachers listened to Tom and his illustrator talk about ‘The Christmasaurus and The Winter Witch’ – it was magical particularly at the end when Tom sang ‘Afraid of Heights’ a song he wrote for the musical edition of the first book in the series ‘The Christmasaurus’. I also loved our event with Alexander McCall-Smith who had been on my wish list for some time and also Michael Palin. Every event is enjoyable and you always learn something new.”
What is the most expensive book you have ever sold?
“Books aren’t particularly expensive in comparison with other things. We did sell lots of copies of the Sex Pistols book last year for £50 each.”
How worried were you about eBooks? Why do you think there is still such an appetite for ‘real books’?
“When Booka first started, eBooks were sounding the death knell of physical books and there was a lot of uncertainty and fear amongst booksellers, but we are all about the physical book and the book-buying experience. We know they are there but it is not our market – you can’t get an eBook signed or share it with a friend.”
What do you think have been some of the biggest trends you have seen in book selling in the ten years of Booka?
“Probably that you have to be ‘More than just a Bookshop’ – in order to thrive you have to entertain and engage your audience through shop environment, windows, activities and events. One of our growth areas is online sales of signed copies and capturing the pre-order market, yet bookshops are spaces where people come to find belonging and community and this is only going to become more important as the world becomes more digitised.”
Oswestry has been your Booka home for ten years, what do you think makes Oswestry special?
“It is an ancient market town that has a wonderful history and an array of other independent shops that attract shoppers and visitors. For an independent bookshop, it is the perfect size and is well located on the English/Welsh border. We love the Anglo/Welsh fusion. It is a very cultural town with a thriving art and music scene, and is becoming more diverse in its demographic.”
You have earned the loyalty of many customers over the years. What do you think that they can get from you that they don’t get from chain bookstores?
“It is definitely down to personal service and high levels of customer care. Going that extra mile for people and chatting to them about books leads to repeat customers and developing strong relationships with people. We have built up their trust.”
If there was one message that you would like to get out there to your current and future customers, what would it be?
“Buy local and use smaller independent shops as they are supporting other local businesses and contributing to the health of your High Street every day. We are passionate about what we do and we hope that is apparent as soon as you walk through our doors.”
What are your ‘three to read’?
“84 Charing Cross by Helen Hanff; Heartburn by Nora Ephron and Cove by Cynan Jones. I love novellas and wry, sharply observed writing and that’s what I get from all of these – with a little darkness thrown in!”
Finally, what are your hopes and dreams for the next ten years of Booka?
“To continue to grow our business and keep surprising our customers. We strive to keep things fresh and exciting. We would like to open another bookshop if the right location and opportunity present itself but Oswestry is where our hearts lie.”
After reading those inspiring words, come and see the reality Carrie and Tim’s vision has created. The whole team at Booka hope that you will join us to celebrate ten awesome years of independent book selling. The 5th and 6th of October will host our Big Bookshop Party where the store will be alive with activities for our 10th Birthday celebration, with a special guest appearance of children’s favourite Peppa Pig on Saturday at 11 am. There is a tempting 10% off all purchases, so you can certainly treat yourself to a new read. Sunday will be a more relaxed day where you can enjoy live jazz from 1 pm. Find out all the details in our latest newsletter here. We look forward to welcoming you to our very special weekend.