A day in the life of...An independent bookseller: "We’re not just building a bookshop, it’s a community"

“For some people, coming along to their local bookshop might be the only face-to-face interaction they have with another person that day, I think it is part of what attracts them to us.”

Thursday, 25th July 2019, 5:21 pm
Sarah Barnard is one of the team behind the first independent bookshop to open in Portobello in living memory.
Sarah Barnard is one of the team behind the first independent bookshop to open in Portobello in living memory.

Sarah Barnard, 28, hopes the first independent bookshop to open in Portobello in living memory leaves a legacy in the area

“There has been a genuine movement over the past few months, particularly in Edinburgh, towards smaller, independent book shops.

“Obviously people are not completely shunning the larger chains, most people still use Amazon, but there has been a little bit of a shift towards shopping local and supporting local businesses.

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The Portobello bookshop has opened in a former fishing tackle store on the seaside High Street.

“I think there is also an environmentally friendly perspective to that, people are not as happy to have something shipped to them.

“We have ourselves in Portobello, I think there is one opening at the top of London Road and then Golden Hare in Stockbridge, there is a scene here that is thriving because of the custom.

"Libraries are an amazing environment to be in"

“My background is in public libraries back home in Coventry. It was just a job that I kind of fell into, but I was so glad I did, it was something I became really passionate about.

“Working in a library, just being surrounded by books, surrounded by people who appreciate and encourage literacy and reading, that is an amazing environment to be in.

“You end up building a community around it, you get the same people coming in to use the library and then it becomes a part of their lives. That is kind of what books are all about, building those connections through the written word.

“It is a real shame that so many libraries are underfunded and understaffed, hopefully this kind of move towards smaller independent bookstores can help revive interest in some of them, because they are a really valuable resource.

“The dream is obviously to create a similar kind of community around the Portobello Bookshop, if you can make something like that happen, build that kind of relationship with people coming in, you create this really strong bond so they keep coming back and our smaller business benefits from that. It is impossible to have that relationship over Amazon, there just really is not anything like being recommended a book in person.

"The process from the book being published to going on the shelf is a lot longer than people realise"

“I first came to Edinburgh in 2016 to study a masters in publishing, before I got a job with Black and White, so I’ve moved from selling books to stores to buying them from publishers - I have seen both sides of the industry.

“The book industry is very friendly, but it is also competitive, I don’t know if people realise just how much work goes into getting a book from author to shelf.

“There is maybe an idea that it is written, then it goes to the publisher, then it is in the shop, but the steps in between that are actually quite varied.

“You get all of these books physically turning up on this massive pallet, hundreds of them and you realise all of these have to end up in a shop to get in the hands of readers, it is a huge logistical challenge.

“It has given me a much greater appreciation of publishers when they come in to pitch to us. I can look through the marketing and publicity department and just see the book for what it is. It is so important to know your audience.

“We did a lot of work in getting everything ready for our opening on Wednesday and it was just an amazing day. We actually had a queue outside the shop for people to come in and it wasn’t just busy window shopping, people were actively there to seek out books, to talk to the people there and get recommendations.

“The warm weather has obviously helped a lot, everyone is out enjoying the sunshine at the beach so it is only natural that they would gravitate up to the High Street.

“But what was really encouraging was the number of young people there using our family area. It was really amazing to see so many people using that part of the shop, bringing their kids in, getting them interested in reading.

“They are the readers of the future and hopefully we can still be here to satisfy their appetite for books. We have made a really good start and if we can inspire people to come in, to buy local, to keep reading, then we are obviously doing something right.”