Welcome back to another Bookspot of the Week, where we connect with outstanding bookstores to share their businesses and satisfy your craving for wonderful book places. We spoke to co-owner of [email protected] Books and Drink (@ink84books on Instagram), Betsy Tobin, about this warm, charming indie bookstore that’s sharing stories in Highbury, North London.
How did your bookstore transition from concept to reality?
Through hard work! We set out to create a destination venue that would be a focal point for the community: a beautiful, accessible, and welcoming space to bring writers and readers together to share their love of books and reading. We wanted it to have a clean, light, modern design with bold touches of color. Above all, we wanted it to be friendly and welcoming.
What do you feel is unique to your bookstore?
Curation, curation, curation! Everything about our business is chosen with extreme care: from the eclectic selection of books for both adults and children, including a wide range of small press titles, to the locally sourced coffee beans, natural sodas, craft beer, and artisan gin, to our amazing range of cards, gifts, and stationery… all of which come from artisan producers who are just as passionate about what they do as we are.
If you had infinite space, what might you add to the store?
The year before last, we converted the space behind the shop into a lovely decked garden with cafe tables, so we’ve ticked that off our list already. We’d love to have a dedicated events space on another floor. And maybe an office! Otherwise, we love our space: it’s a perfect fit.
How do you feel your bookstore fits into your local community?
Since opening our shop five years ago, our terrace has transitioned to become a focal point for the entire area: there is a fantastic natural grocery a few doors down, an amazing cafe right next door, a gorgeous gift shop across the road, and a brilliant Thai restaurant on the corner. We all complement each other, and our businesses all benefit from proximity to one another.
What does your store offer that a chain or online retailer can’t?
We greet every single person who comes into the shop, offering recommendations and trading views on books with nearly everyone. We listen and learn from our customers every day, and they are extremely loyal.
Do you hand-pick your staff to create a specific environment?
Our staff is friendly, low key, and love to chat about books. But, they also know when to let you commune in silence with the books themselves!
How else do you create a welcoming environment?
Ready smiles. Good signage and lighting. Pleasing displays. Nice music. Free Wifi. Great coffee. It all adds up.
What about your store do you think appeals to your neighborhood?
All of the above! But a few things stand out: our design, which is light and airy, and our outstanding selection.
Do you have any staff picks or releases we should watch out for?
Looking down the road, January and February have some great new titles that have caught our eye, including Luster by Raven Leilani and Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson, a rising young star on the London literary scene. And next week brings one of this year’s biggest book events with the publication of Barack Obama’s A Promised Land. Very timely!
Do you tailor your inventory according to your community?
Islington has a high percentage of people working in the arts, publishing, and media, so our stock is relatively literary. We sell less commercial and crime fiction than other shops, and more hardback literary fiction and zeitgeist non-fiction relating to politics, economics, and science.
Is there anything else that you’d like our audience to know?
During lockdown, many indie bookshops moved their businesses online, but we did something a bit different. We created an online Virtual Bookshop to offer our customers the same kind of browsing experience they would get in the shop. The categories mimic the shop’s own sections, and you can see all the latest titles and top sellers in a glance, as if you were looking at the tables. It now has nearly a thousand titles across all sections, and we are in the process of adding gifts and Christmas stock. It’s been a huge undertaking, but our customers love it. Anyone can shop with us from anywhere in the world, and we ship everywhere.
What’s your favorite book?
That would be like choosing between my children! I’m a big fan of strong narrative lines and elegant writing, so a good story, very well told.