Readers on the bookshops they miss most: ‘I can’t wait to take my lockdown baby!’

·7-min read

“During the pandemic I have been really impressed by the team who run The Portobello Bookshop in Edinburgh. They ran an online book festival which was fun, a click-and-collect service when allowed, and moved quickly to provide an online service. I miss browsing, and the pleasure of finding new titles and authors. My husband usually goes one way, and I another and then we find each other, quickly checking we are not holding copies of the same book. The glee of children finding a book always makes me smile, and that has been missed over the last year. Above all, I miss just watching people in bookshops as they slip into that space where they are deciding ‘will I or won’t I’. Oh, what a dilemma ...” Richard Whitecross, Dunbar

The Rabbit Hole in Brigg, North Lincolnshire isn’t just a bookshop. The owners, Nick and Mel Webb, are devoted to bringing their local community together around books. They are hugely supportive of local authors and poets, and have been running Zoom reading groups throughout the pandemic. They have also been arranging virtual workshops for schools with authors and illustrators from around the world, promoting a love of stories across the whole county. The shop has a wonderful, welcoming atmosphere, which stems from the generosity of spirit of the people who run it.” Nell Pattison, North Lincolnshire

“At Paramount Books in Shudehill, Manchester, you get a free piece of fruit with a purchase. There are black and white postcards of European and American writers to buy. Wonderful jazz music wallops into the street. I like the floral display along the front window. You can’t pay by card but you can pay in Euros. Nothing wrong with Waterstones, but this as much Manchester as early Jeff Noon and Joy Division. Unique.” Richard Clegg, Oldham

“My Christmas present this year from my daughters was a year-long subscription to Mr B’s Emporium in Bath. I have been shielding so couldn’t go out, but I love reading. I filled in a questionnaire so they could find out my tastes and I have received a book every month. The choices have been excellent, both unusual authors and subjects. I look forward in anticipation each month. It has been a life saver.” Taylor Joyce, Fiskerton

Cogito Books in Hexham. It has operated a postal and local delivery service for their customers over the past year, working long hours behind closed doors. Competition continues in the time of Covid - Amazon, Waterstones in the town centre, another fine independent bookshop, Forum, three miles away. But I nail my colours to the mast of Cogito – I am so glad they are reopening!” Jane Torday, Hexham

The Yellow Lighted Bookshop in Nailsworth is small but the selection is chosen wisely and I love that. The displays are always enticing - they always have local and quirky choices in the window. The staff are real characters and they make a genuine effort with the shop and customers. If they don’t have the book in stock you want, they peer into their computer for a while and always find it. They’ve done click-and-collect through lockdown and I’ve always walked past and peered in, because it makes me feel good.” Julie Hibbs, Gloucestershire

Phlox Books owner Aimee Madill outside the shop.
Phlox Books owner Aimee Madill outside the shop. Photograph: David Parry/PA

Phlox Books in Leyton, London was one of the reasons we moved here! Small but perfectly-formed with a brilliant selection and lovely, exceptionally well-read staff. It’s a local community hub as well as a bookshop and they’re so supportive of local authors. Plus they stay open until 10pm some nights, and serve beer! What more could you ask from a bookshop? I’ve missed Phlox so much through lockdown and can’t wait to browse its shelves again.” Anonymous, Leyton

Lutyens & Rubinstein in London is a small gem of an independent bookshop. It has a proper neighbourhood feel. The huge shop windows are always gleaming with a new display and the scent of books comforts you as you enter to peruse new arrivals and search for old friends downstairs. I miss popping in almost every day as I just ‘happen’ to be passing, inevitably leaving with another book or 10; taking my nieces to the shop to choose a book; the book clubs (which luckily we’ve managed to continue on Zoom); and running into another regular, having a great chat and feeling part of a community. I miss everything about the bookshop. For me, its ‘essential’.” Clodagh Hayes, London

“My favourite bookshop is Next Chapter in Sheffield. It has a great collection of books and a lovely atmosphere. David, the bookseller, also sell paintings, book paraphernalia and CDs. I miss being able to visit the shop as well as its location. David is always more than helpful – if he can’t obtain a book for you, then he will point you to someone can.” Paul Ottaway, Eyam

Astley Book Farm in Bedworth, Warwickshire, is an absolute treasure trove of secondhand finds, including rare books and the latest fiction releases. I always leave with a basketful of books, plus it’s such a lovely spot to get a coffee and sit in the shop’s sun-trapped garden (complete with resident chickens). I had a lockdown baby last year, and I can’t wait to visit again and introduce my daughter to the Children’s Hayloft.” Natasha Barnes, West Midlands

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Any Amount of Books on Charing Cross Road. The owner, Jill, and her friendly and helpful staff with their years of experience bookselling. The great and ever-changing variety of the books. It is rare to leave empty handed from this survivor of what was once the heart of the secondhand book trade in central London! Get back out there, people! And help to save theses oases of reading and civilisation.” Jon Morgan, Saffron Walden

The Book Shop in Lee-on-Solent has been going since 1933. It is a small independent bookshop in a small costal town. The current owners only took over at the end of 2019 and have worked tirelessly to keep the shop going throughout the pandemic. One of the most ingenious things they have done are ‘positivity boxes’: people can buy a box for someone that includes a paperback book, boomark, a drink, some chocolate, and a notebook and pen. They did special ones for Easter and delivered these locally while dressed as Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter. I love this bookshop and the fantastic sense of community it embodies.” Maria Hibbs, Hampshire

Sutton’s Bookshop in Ulverston manages to cram into its tiny space a seemingly endless wealth of both national and local books - but to be honest it’s the fact Robert Sutton still maintains a coal fire on colder days that makes me want to visit it! He is always behind the counter helping customers with his Google-esque knowledge of books and authors. People with only a vague memory of the title or author of a long-lost book they seek are invariably helped by a man who only grudgingly got himself an email address recently and certainly doesn’t trouble himself with modern frippery such as websites, Twitter or Instagram. Long may he and the shop continue!” Alan Cleaver, Cumbria

Troutmark Books in Cardiff is such a brilliant eclectic shop with huge stock of secondhand fiction and non-fiction on three floors and one can always find something of interest well shelved and displayed. Also fair prices. Staff very helpful.
It’s such a wonderful browsing experience – spiritual almost. Missed it greatly.” Darren Perks, South Wales

“For years I was too shy to go inside Maison Assouline in London until I stepped over the threshold one rainy day. I’ve never looked back. Maison Assouline epitomises luxury and blends a bookshop, restaurant and museum seamlessly. It’s my safe haven off of London’s busy Piccadilly where time stands still and the books are rare, beautiful and often too heavy to carry. I miss wandering in aimlessly and leaving with the feeling that I’ve spent decades in another world. When I’m there, I get a special feeling as I’m surrounded by books that I could only dream of owning and knowing that I have been able to engage with them in a beautiful building that somehow feels like home.” Marianna Michael, Enfield