Convenience versus the independent bookshop

My partner and I decided to venture into Glasgow city centre on Friday after steering clear of it for pretty much the entirety of the pandemic thus far. After having some lunch, we went to the Savoy Centre on Sauchiehall Street, which is one of the city centre’s main shopping streets. Inside, we were met with a grim sight. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that the pandemic has decimated the Savoy Centre. Most of the shop units are vacant and despite how busy Sauchiehall Street was, the Centre itself was near enough dead.

Out of the handful of shops that have survived the pandemic, there was one shop in particular that we wanted to go to and that was The Book Tree. The Book Tree, which has been around for fifty plus years, is an absolute treasure trove. From horror to history, from comics to rare collectibles, The Book Tree seems to have it all. If there’s a particular book that you’re looking for but can’t find, chances are the owner will be able to point you in the direction of a shop that will sell it. Even if you haven’t got a specific book or type of book in mind, you’re guaranteed to come away from The Book Tree with at least one book after browsing its shelves, stacks and tables.

After picking up a variety of books – from an old edition of a Stephen King book to a ten book series on WW2 – I popped out of the Centre to find a cash machine. When I returned, I found my partner sitting with the owner, chatting about Scottish history. Chain bookshops like Waterstones are good, but you just don’t get that kind of personal interaction with their staff. When you’re shopping online, you don’t get any interaction at all. The Book Tree’s owner then started talking about other second-hand, independent bookshops in the city and he said something incredibly sad. I’m paraphrasing, but it was something along the lines of “We’re the only ones left.”

We live in an era of convenience, an era in which it’s possible to buy a book with the click of a button and have it delivered to our homes. For people with busy lives, this convenience is great. For people who are having to isolate due to Covid-19 or have health issues that make leaving their homes difficult, this convenience is absolutely invaluable.

Online shopping has its place in modern society, there’s no doubt about that…but advances in online shopping services shouldn’t come at the cost of independent businesses and people’s livelihoods. It was evident from the way he was talking that The Book Tree’s owner has seen many other bookshops go under over the years. The reasons behind these closures are undoubtedly varied, but I can guarantee that some of them have come about because of the emergence of online shopping. In 2020, 44 bookshops in the UK and Ireland closed, which is roughly 5% of 890 independent bookshops recorded by the Booksellers Association in 2019. Obviously I can’t be certain, but I imagine some of these closures were down to the loss in revenue brought on by Covid lockdowns. The popularity of online shopping combined with the detrimental impact of lockdowns means that it’s more important than ever to support indie booksellers.

I’m not imploring people to forgo online shopping. Now that things are beginning to open up again following the Covid lockdowns, I just think people should ask themselves, “Can I maybe buy this book from a local business instead?” when their thumb or cursor is poised over the ‘Add the cart’ button and make an effort to go into those local, independent bookshops when they’re passing by. Supporting small businesses should go beyond our book buying, though. Whatever it is that you’re looking to buy – be it toiletries, clothing, shoes, pet supplies, plants…the list goes on – have a Google and see if there are any local, independent businesses where you can buy these things. You might just be surprised by what you find.

What are some of your favourite independent bookshops? Let me know in the comments!

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9 thoughts on “Convenience versus the independent bookshop

      1. I’ve not done nearly enough book shopping in Glasgow in general to be honest; just Waterstones I think. I’m definitely more familiar with Edinburgh. I’d love to explore some indies and lesser known places in Glasgow though! 📚

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      2. There’s quite a few in Glasgow. There’s one called Voltaire & Rousseau nearish Kelvinbridge subway station. It’s literally floor to ceiling piles of books, so not great if you’re looking for something specific, but definitely a place to find some hidden gems. A couple of doors down from it, there’s this amazing tea room called Tchai Ovna, so you can buy yourself a book or two then go for a drink! A couple of streets away, there’s a place called Thistle Books that’s pretty good and not too far away on Great Western Road, there’s a shop called Caledonia Books. In the West End, Oxfam have a sizeable bookshop across the road from Waterstones. Basically that side of the city is amazing for bookshops 😂 What are some of your favourite bookshops in Edinburgh?

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      3. Ooh, thank you! I’ll definitely keep note of these for future reference 📚 I love Blackwell’s in Edinburgh. Lighthouse Books is great for queer, feminist & BLM books. Golden Hare Books and Topping & Company are both lovely! And Transreal Fiction is good for fantasy/sci-fi 😊

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    1. I haven’t been to a Blackwells since I lived in Manchester, but yeah, like you, I always try to buy from small bookshops when I can. Have you ever used Hive? It’s an online bookshop, but a percentage of what you pay goes to an indie bookshop of your choice!

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  1. I really like bookstores, just as I prefer paper books over ebooks. So I’m sorry when a bookstore closes. I like to go to the bookstore, take a look, pick up books, talk to the owners. When I lived in London I loved taking a book and sitting there on the carpet and taking my time to decide whether to buy it or choose others. This has always been different from ordering something on a site. So I hope that maybe Tree can create an event and get people to come and buy books.

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