Meet the people behind three of the UK’s brilliant independent bookshops

<span>‘The value of an independent bookshop is the knowledge and enthusiasm’ … Diane Park outside Wave of Nostalgia.</span><span>Photograph: Wave of Nostalgia</span>
‘The value of an independent bookshop is the knowledge and enthusiasm’ … Diane Park outside Wave of Nostalgia.Photograph: Wave of Nostalgia

Against the odds, independent bookshops seem to holding their own: in 2022 the number of indies in the UK and Ireland reached a 10-year high of 1,072 shops, according to the Booksellers Association (BA). Though this year’s figures have dropped a little – there are now 1,063 indie bookshops – bookselling has, on the whole “defied the high street trend for nearly a decade”, a spokesperson from the BA says – especially “if we consider the 2016 figure of 867 shops”. As we come to the end of Independent Bookshop Week, an annual celebration which has this year seen 100 events and 700 shops taking part, we shine the light on three of the UK’s independent bookshops.


The Berwyn Bookshop, north Wales

Few bookshops will have had as dramatic a start as the Berwyn Bookshop, run by Emma and Adam Littler. Three years ago, the couple were working for the business’s then-owner, when it was a dealership based in a warehouse rather than a bookshop, specialising in secondhand and collectible books.

Then, in November 2021, a fire broke out at the warehouse, destroying most of the stock, approximately 400,000 volumes, including extremely rare items such as a book Queen Victoria signed when she gave it as a gift to her lady-in-waiting.

The owner gave up the business after that, and the Littlers decided to take it on. Keeping the old dealership’s name and the small amount of stock that had been rescued from the fire, they relocated and pivoted towards a new business model.

Now, the Berwyn Bookshop is based in a former community centre on a residential estate near Mold. The couple still deal in used and collectible books, mainly via the online portal AbeBooks. But the shop now sells new books, too, and has put on packed-out events with authors including Lisa Jewell, MW Craven and Victoria Hislop.

“We do look different from a conventional shop,” admits Emma, 31. “And when we first started it was a bit of a struggle to convince authors to come to a former community centre in Mold. But the support we’ve had from authors and publishers is tremendous.”

In the wake of the devastating blaze the community rallied round and donated books to help replenish the lost stock. But the Littlers opened their new premises right in the middle of the Covid pandemic, at a time when movement in Wales was highly restricted through local lockdowns.

“We had no idea how we’d make it work after the fire, or if we even could make it work, but we’ve never looked back,” says Emma.

She concedes that running an independent bookshop is hard work and will never be a “get rich quick scheme”.

“The overheads are high and the margins are tight on new books, and we of course have to compete with Amazon and the supermarkets. Sometimes when a new book comes out, we’re paying the publisher per copy more than Amazon are selling it for to the public,” Emma adds.

“But people still seem to like supporting an independent bookshop if they can, and I think the value we offer in terms of the author events and the enthusiasm we have for books is something you can only get at an independent bookshop.”


Wave of Nostalgia, West Yorkshire

Nestled on the picturesque cobbled Main Street in the centre of Haworth, where the Brontës used to walk on a daily basis two centuries ago, Wave of Nostalgia is steeped in literary surroundings.

Earlier this year, it was named the best independent bookshop in the north of England at the British Book awards, which isn’t bad going for a shop that was never meant to be a bookshop at all.

Diane Park originally had a business creating clothing, which she would sell from her workshop in Barnoldswick, on the border between West Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Three years ago she relocated to Haworth, and under the Wave of Nostalgia banner she began to sell gift items as well as clothing, plus a few books.

“It was the middle of lockdown and I was reading a lot, and I suddenly had this lightbulb moment,” Park says. “If I was catching up on my reading, then so were a lot of other people. And the books were getting more and more interest in the shop. So then it seemed obvious that we should become a bookshop.”

Park carefully curates a lightly themed shop, concentrating on books about feminism and strong women, the LGBTQ+ community, and conservation and environmentalism.

Since setting up, Wave of Nostalgia now has a six-strong staff, and runs events in its cellar and upstairs rooms.

“I never thought I’d need to take on so many people,” Park says. “But the value of an independent bookshop is the knowledge and enthusiasm of the booksellers. One person can’t be on the phone to a customer wanting to place an order and at the same time pushing books into customers’ hands in the shop, saying ‘You have to read this!’”

Haworth is a honey pot for tourists, making running the business a little unpredictable. “You never know how things are going to go … one day you can be full of tourists, and the next it can be dead,” Park says. “But we do seem to be a destination shop for a lot of people. They will come to Haworth just to visit us and to buy a book, or to attend one of our events, which we can have two or three of in a week, sometimes.|

Winning the accolade of best independent bookshop in the north of England was a high point of this year, of course, but Park has her sights set on going even further in next year’s awards. “We’ll be going all out to win the title of best independent in the country,” she says.


Falmouth Bookseller, Cornwall

There has been a bookshop in the centre of the Cornish harbour town of Falmouth for as long as anyone can remember, but for the past three decades the Falmouth Bookseller has been part of the growing chain of Cornish bookshops, started by Ron Johns. As well as the Falmouth shop, Johns owns the St Ives Bookseller, is a partner in the Padstow Bookseller and owns the small independent press Mabecron Books, which primarily publishes Cornish picture books.

Housed in a 200-year-old Georgian building, the Falmouth Bookseller has an arresting shopfront and a bright, airy interior. It’s a “brilliant” place to sell books, “for so many reasons”, says manager Eloise Rowe. “We absolutely have the boost of the Cornish tourist trade during the school holidays,” she says, as well as a year-round customer base of locals and university students.

One of the biggest hurdles is getting publishers to get behind indie bookshops, says Rowe. “We put on talks and events throughout the year, but one of the newer issues we’re facing is larger tour event organisers who do everything in house,” she says. “This means big authors, or perhaps their publicists, are becoming increasingly unlikely to do events directly with an indie bookshop. A few years ago we held an event with Michael Palin in our beautiful church in town, it was sold out and we sold a lot of books that night – that was such a coup for us and the town, but opportunities like that are becoming harder to find.”

That said, Rowe thinks the sector is in pretty good shape. While there are some “really big hurdles”, indies are “a really great place to be, and our customers really do value us”, she says.