Fed up with the daily grind? There’s nothing like a good book to cheer you up.
That’s the philosophy which keeps Sheen Bookshop successful in a world dominated by television and the internet.
“Reading is the best and cheapest form of escapism there is,” says the shop’s manager, Lucy Fisher. “And luckily for us, following the arrival of e-books, the sales of real books which you can hold in your hand do not appear to be declining.”
There is no shortage of good books among the more than 5,000 titles lining the shelves. Fiction is the largest section and reflects local taste and demand for interesting stories which fire the imagination.
Though only a small shop compared to a bookseller like Waterstones, Sheen Bookshop stocks all the best new novels. And if they do not have what a customer wants, they can usually get it within 24 hours.“We have a very good wholesaler in London,” explains Lucy. “Provided we order before 4pm and the item is in stock, we can get delivery by next day.”Even books that have to be ordered from America usually arrive in just three days.“The best thing about being small is that we can be more nimble,” she added.
Another advantage is that Sheen Bookshop has companion bookshops in Barnes and Kew, all under the same ownership. This helps when it comes to negotiating contracts with wholesalers and allows special offers to be split between the three shops.
But what also attracts customers and keeps them loyal is the service and expertise they get from Lucy and her assistant Sarah O’Mahoney.
“We read hugely ourselves and are always very keen to recommend books,” said Lucy who takes up to 20 paperbacks with her on holidays.
“We also like a challenge in identifying a book for someone who does not know the full title or the author.”
Among the many sometimes obscure books they have successfully tracked down was an order for a book about a family which they traced to a small publisher in India where the copy was specially printed and sent back to Sheen.
The shop also has a large children’s section to cater for the demand from the many young families who live in the area. The staff read these books as well so they know what to recommend.
“This is a huge market and some adult authors are now writing books for teenagers, for example, Helen Grant and ‘The Vanishing of Katharina Linden,’” said Lucy.
“It’s an interesting new trend, with the cross-over sometimes going the other way, for example, children’s writer Michelle Paver has just written an adult ghost story called ‘Dark Matter’ which I thoroughly recommend.”
Revision books and school texts are also available in the shop, along with toys and cards.
“We are not trying to compete with our local toy shop and card shop,” she added. “We are not cut throat. Sheen is fantastically community-minded, which I love, so we want to be part of it.”
Words by Mark Dowdney – Pictures by Bob Lisney – Project Coordinator Richard Osbourne