As the holidays roll ever closer, the anti-Amazon sentiment seems higher than ever before. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for this. But many also rely on Amazon for their reading needs, especially in these strange Covid times, and can be left wondering where they can get their books from instead.
So, let’s talk about independent bookshops, who have more options for you than you may think.
While the idea of conscious consumption can look very different depending on multiple factors, most people can agree that shopping locally is a great place to start. It keeps money in your area, helping local individuals thrive, and can develop stronger relationships in the community. Most independent bookstores are owned by people who are passionate about books, who also rely on those who are passionate about reading to support them over the convenience of Amazon.
But local bookshops also have many things to offer that Amazon can’t. Yes, you can have something arrive quickly at your door, but it’s impersonal. Local bookshops often know their customers by name, curate stock that reflects the interests of their regulars, host events for the community, foster connections with schools, and support local authors and specialist books on their regions. Independents tend to go the extra mile, providing both recommendations and a unique, warm atmosphere in which to browse.
Beyond these general thoughts, here’s why I think indies deserve support:
- To preserve the local community. Instead of huge chains taking over your whole high street, or big businesses that only exist online and leave your high street like an empty ghost town, supporting small shops helps you build a thriving, unique community where your purchases directly help the owner, employees and other businesses in your neighbourhood.
Consider this: Local retailers tend to purchase more of their goods from local suppliers, as well as other services. Hometown banks, local accountants, and advertisements on local radio and in community newspapers directly stimulates your town’s economy on a small but steady scale. When you shop at an independently owned business, your entire community benefits!
- Where your money goes. If it’s Amazon, your purchase goes into Jeff Bezos’ pocket and… barely anywhere else. Almost nothing goes into taxes to support the country, as these mega-corporations are very good at tax avoidance, and it certainly doesn’t go to paying employees livable wages or keeping them from being abused. In a smaller shop, your money goes directly to the owner and employees you can see in front of you, as well as actually returning to the government as taxes.
- Personalisation. With recommendations provided by real humans, not an algorithm, plus the chance to get to know your booksellers, you’re far more likely to discover new authors, titles and whole genres you may have never considered before. A well-curated bookshop with well-read staff will be able to help you expand your horizons and explore your tastes, all with a personable, kind approach.
- Supporting writers. This personalisation, in turn, helps more writers be discovered, build fanbases and continue to be published. Writers shouldn’t have to be a slave to the Amazon algorithm, especially when publishing still doesn’t fully represent the diversity of writers that are actually out there. Remember when Red, White & Royal Blue went viral by word of mouth, enabling writer Casey McQuiston to become a full-time writer? Indies, personal connections and proper recommendations help that happen!
And now, with uncertain lockdowns and people staying home, many indies are also offering online services. So here’s a list of a few of the most popular indies from around the UK, perhaps there’s one near you to try this holiday season!
Open since 2008, Pages of Hackney can be found on the Lower Clapton Road. They’re described as light and bright, with exceptionally warm and friendly staff and a vast, eclectic range of books for adults and children alike. The basement is filled with secondhand books, including many Penguin classics, while the shop also has a selection of vintage vinyl and cosy armchairs to rest for a while. They also work to give a platform to marginalised voices in publishing.
Round Table began life as a pop-up, created in response to a study revealing only 1% of UK children’s books contain a BAME character. Instead, Round Table Books is an inclusive store in the heart of Brixton that curates books from a wide variety of UK and Irish publishers to celebrate underrepresented children’s books, writers and illustrators.
Opened in 1979 in Central London, Gay’s The Word was the UK’s first gay bookshop. In the past it has survived havings its stock seized on the grounds of indecency by customs officers, rising rents, unfriendly council policies and even its windows being smashed in a homophobic attack. But, the shop prevails and is well-loved in the local community. It represents both an important piece of London history and a thriving community. It also boasts an unparalleled variety of LGBTQ+ books, alongside welcoming staff and a regular range of events and discussion groups.
The literary journal The London Review of Books decided to open their own shop in 2003 in Central London. They have over 20,000 titles, from classics to contemporary fiction, and are well known as a place for book lovers to meet, talk, and drink coffee. Their mission is to represent the Review’s ethos: intellectual without being pompous. As well as books, during lockdown they’ve also been offering cake takeaway!
Founded in the late 90s in London, Persephone Books’ mission is to republish neglected and under-appreciated (predominantly women’s) literature. They stock a wide selection of fiction and non-fiction, from cookbooks to poetry.
The Kew Bookshop was founded 25 years ago and aims to provide the traditional bookselling experience people still crave in the 21st century. It’s well known for beautiful window displays that have won multiple awards, while also serving local schools and hosting events and tours for the community.
Al Saqi Books is a Middle Eastern specialist bookshop based in London since the 1970s. It sells a vast range of books that focus on the Middle East and North Africa in English, as well as all subjects in Arabic. It has become a key cultural figure, serving Arabic-speaking communities in the UK as well as travellers passing through who may not be able to access certain titles at home. It also supplies schools, libraries, embassies and charities, and works to serve the local community, leading the Financial Times to describe it as ‘a beacon for intellectual enquiry and open-mindedness’.
Westbourne Bookshop is a family-owned business that opened in Westbourne, Bournemouth, in the 1990s. It’s a busy store with a popular children’s section, inviting atmosphere, and friendly staff, and they’ll order and deliver any requested book within 48 hours.
Both Mrs Middelton’s and sister shop The Rabbit Hole can be found on the Isle of Wight, and cite the area’s artistic legacy as a key inspiration. Mrs Middleton’s stocks antiquarian and rare books, alongside local authors, while The Rabbit Hole stocks children’s and arts and crafts books.
The Book Nook is an award-winning children’s bookshop in Hove. Its stock caters to all ages, and its staff are knowledgeable and keen to helps readers find what’s right for them, from teenagers to babies. They also have a cafe, regular story times, book clubs, events, and a pirate ship to play in.
Kim’s Bookshop opened in the 1970s and has locations in both Arundel and Chichester. While they don’t have a nationwide online ordering system, they do have a special ‘book detective’ skill. If there’s a book you read years ago, or a story you’ve heard of but can’t find, you can fill in their Book Finder form and they’ll find it for you!
At the start of 2020, this secondhand bookshop in Petersfield was saved by the internet after a bad day of sales. Described as a browser’s paradise, they stock everything from modern secondhand paperbacks to high value collectable and antiquarian books. Plus they also offer bookbinding services and picture cleaning and restoration. Search their vast stock online, as they’re also taking internet orders.
Sevenoaks Bookshop has been open since 1948, with a focus on the best-emerging literature alongside fine classics, to help everyone find their next favourite. They’re offering free shipping to online orders for those in the Sevenoaks Town areas, or £3.25 postage across the rest of the UK for any order you desire.
East Grinstead Bookshop is filled with new and secondhand books, alongside staff who are passionate about them, and a cafe. It hosts a book club, creative writing workshops, chess clubs, and many other events, alongside Christmas books fairs ar local schools and nursing homes. It also runs a charity ‘Buy a Book for a Stranger’ project for the patients of Queen Victoria Hospital.
Opened in 1974, News From Nowhere is Liverpool’s not-for-profit radical & community bookshop, which is run collectively by a workers’ co-operative. There’s no boss or individual owner, all workers share responsibilities and decision making. Workers all make the living wage while any profit remains within the business to pay for costs and stock. Plus, they’re committed to social justice. The books stocked are designed to empower and inspire for positive change, with everything from sustainability, workers rights, anti-racism and LGBTQ+ to fiction and poetry, books for children and local interest. Like most independents, they can also order the same vast range of books that bigger shops can, so requests are always welcome!
Based in Stockton-On-Tees, this bookshop is only a few years old but has already created a community hub for all things literary. In normal times they hold reading groups for young readers, are involved with Stockton Book Festival and Stockton Children’s Book of the Year, and have key relationships with several local schools.
The Little Ripon Bookshop was opened in 2009 as a literary hub for the area. It’s now well known in the community and runs author events, book clubs, story times and a school supply business. They value great customer service including next day book collection, personal recommendations, and a beautiful shop environment.
The Grove Bookshop opened in Ilkley in the 1970s, with a curated selection of stock alongside specific Yorkshire titles and a children’s section. They host a variety of events, from talks to afternoon teas, and are also the official booksellers for the Ilkley Literature Festival.
Ken Spelman’s is a rare and secondhand bookshop in York that first opened in 1948. It’s now considered one of the best rare bookshops in the UK, with thousands of books both in-store and available to order. They also send out a monthly list of 10 interesting recent acquisitions that don’t appear in their regular catalogues
Chapter One opened in Manchester in 2015, with a curated book selection, unique decor, and cafe. Its community events include reading groups and life drawing, so make sure to check it out once lockdown lifts!
Situated on Colchester High Street, Red Lion Books is the only independent book shop in the area and has been running since the 1970s. The shop focuses on quality, paying close attention to selecting and curating the books they stock. They also support several book groups, author events, and even have a gallery space for artwork.
Chicken and Frog Bookshop is a dedicated children’s bookshop in Brentwood that opened in 2012. It boasts a wide range of kids books, for all ages and tastes, alongside a tuition centre and cafe corner.
Based in Norwich, The Book Hive carries a hand-picked selection of bestsellers, classics and rare titles. Instead of traditional ‘sections’, the shop instead goes for interesting displays, making each visit a unique experience. It’s a place to stroll through and take your time, which also hosts regular events and has its own on-site publishing house, Propolis.
South West England
Max Minerva’s is a Bristol community hub for adults and children alike. Its wide range of books can all be found on its website, alongside the option to sign up for a reading subscription. Their regular events include classes and school tours, and through lockdown, the team has hosted live storytimes for children on their Instagram.
Mostly Books is a friendly indie in the heart of Abingdon that has been running for over a decade. It has a varied selection of books for kids and adults alike, alongside author events, quizzes, book fairs and pop-ups.
The White Horse Bookshop, situated in Marlborough and open since the 1940s, carries over 20,000 titles and contains four floors to explore, one of which is an art studio for hire.
Hunting Raven books can be found in the market town of Frome, Somerset. With over 9000 titles in stock, it’s seen as the heart of the community, supporting multiple local societies, schools and festivals. They also have in-house specialists in children’s books, graphic novels, fiction poetry and art, giving everyone the chance to learn.
The Edge of the World Bookshop, located in Penzance, is a home of community spirit. It focuses on small publishers and beautiful editions of classic books, providing something fun and interesting for all readers. They also take part in multiple community projects including book groups, events at local schools, children’s events, and book signings for adults.
Rubicund in Falmouth is a radical bookshop, vegan café, creative studios and lending library. Spread over two floors, downstairs hosts the book shop and cafe, while upstairs hosts the artists’ desks and library.
Lighthouse Books in Edinburgh is a queer-owned and woman-led independent community bookshop. They’re a vocally activist, intersectional, feminist, antiracist, LGBTQ+ community space, and in 2020 were nominated Scotland’s Best Independent Bookshop. They house 10,000 titles across most genres, host a vibrant year-round programme of events, and run both the Book Fringe in August and the Radical Book Fair in November each year.
The Portobello Bookshop, located in the seaside area of East Edinburgh, opened in 2019 and is housed in what was a former fishing tackle shop. This indie is designed to be warm, modern and open, making it great for browsing, and stocks all kinds of fiction and non-fiction. The staff are passionate, experienced booksellers who put a lot of love into curating a diverse and original selection of stock, but they will also order in any requests customers may have.
This LGBTQ+ bookshop in Glasgow is designed as a community space to share a love of queer history, culture, writing and storytelling. They stock both new and secondhand queer books, magazines and graphic novels, but they’ll also order things in on request. During lockdown, they have run their pay-it-forward shelf online so that those who are low on money can still order books for this time.
Far From The Madding Crowd is a family-owned-and-run independent in Linlithgow, Central Scotland. Its two storeys house a large number of titles in most genres, alongside a dedicated area for children’s books and a room dedicated to Scotland, filled with books about Scotland or by Scottish authors. The shop also runs its own literary festival, The Further From Festival, each February, and coordinates the West Lothian schools festival every June.
The Orcadian Bookshop is key to Orkney’s town centre; with a vast range of popular books alongside many on Orkey and by Orcadian authors. They also boast an impressive children’s section, filled with a wide range of entertaining and educational options, and the staff are always known for being exceptionally friendly. Plus, the shop has an art gallery on the first floor to showcase the work of local artists and photographers.
Fort William’s Highland Bookshop stocks a great selection of fiction, Scottish history, local authors and children’s books. They recently opened the Big Outdoors Lounge, which contains Scotland’s largest selection of specialist climbing and outdoors books alongside a range of maps and guides, plus a dedicated exhibition space. Finally, head to their cosy coffee corner for a range of out of print and secondhand treasures to explore.
Griffin Books is a small shop that can be found in the Welsh seaside town of Penarth. They stock a range of fiction, non-fiction and children’s books in English and Welsh, and host regular author events. They also organise the Penarth Literature Festival, a weekend filled with events for the whole family, have two book clubs and host regular readings for children.
Bookish, Crickhowell, has a stock of over 5000 titles alongside a cafe, bar and events space. They host regular events and book clubs and pop up bookstores at local festivals Greenman and How the Light Gets In, and in 2019 the shop ran its own literary festival. Plus, they’re now running a monthly subscription service.
Books Paper Scissors is an independent bookshop in Belfast, with a curated selection of new fiction and non-fiction, plus classics, Irish writing, poetry, and a wide variety of stationery. They also run a regular book club and offer a 6-month subscription gift service for loved ones.
No Alibis is an independent community bookshop that has been situated in Belfast for almost 25 years. They’re also an arts hub, regularly hosting concerts, book launches, poetry readings and lectures.
Based in Nottingham, Five Leaves has radical roots and a wide variety of books including fiction, history, politics, and LGBTQ+ books. It usually runs its own regular events, including a mini-festival, so keep an eye out when it’s safe for gatherings to return.
Kenilworth Books can be found in the heart of Warwickshire, boasting a large selection for children as well as fiction and non-fiction for adults. They work with a variety of schools across the midlands, advising on and supplying books for events and libraries, while the team is well known for their strong reading recommendations.
Warwick Books can be found in Warwick town square and is the only independent bookshop in Warwick. Its also known as a community hub, with events, workshops, and book groups that make them well-loved by both locals and visitors. They also work with local charities, festivals and businesses to support the local community.
Bookmark, Spalding is both a community hub and a spacious bookshop. Groups, businesses and friends often come together for coffee and cake, while its books cate to all ages and preferences. It also has a large children’s department, with a custom-built train for kids to play and read in, alongside comfortable seating areas for others to read and relax.
Hive isn’t an independent bookshop, but it’s an online version that’s here to help them take down Amazon. It is connected to hundreds of independent bookshops across the UK: when you make a purchase a percentage of the money goes to an independent bookshop of your choice, and you can have your purchased delivered to your door or go pick up from your local independent.
If it’s not easy for you to purchase from the indies you want to support, this is a convenient way to do that without leaving the house. Plus, these guys pay their taxes!
I hope this list helped you find somewhere somewhat local to you for your next online order. But, if all else fails, Hive is your best bet for supporting real people while still getting your winter escapism and relaxation in!