Inspiring Older Readers

posted on 13 Sep 2015

The Bookshop, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

I used to get unnecessarily over-excited about being able to go to The Bookshop in Chapel Hill. It was a proper, even old-fashioned second hand book store that served the student/lecturer population of Chapel Hill - the epicentre of the University of North Carolina. It's probably a bit of an exaggeration to say that it's a bohemian place but it's probably as close to that as you can get in these parts. A couple of years ago I spotted that the owners had put the shop up for sale and although I would have loved to have been the one who took it over I knew that pesky details like money and citizenship would probably get in the way. You always have to worry when a book shop goes up for sale because there's always a chance that it will end up with a 'closed forever' sign being slapped up and in its place another shop selling skateboards or car insurance pops up. So, I was delighted to hear that it had changed hands and was continuing as a fully fledged used book store.

This summer was the first time I'd had the opportunity to visit it under it's new management and, I have to confess, it was a great disappointment to me. The shop has been physically reorganised to some extent but not, in my view, for the better. I think the plan must have been to open it up by re-arranging the shelving into continuous runs instead of the alcoved style it had before. I see the logic but it only really succeeds in destroying the delicate sense of closeted cosiness it had before. And......the stock was distinctly second rate and, in my view, over-priced. If you'd told me I'd leave the shop having purchased nothing I would never have believed you - but there it is.

I'm not convinced that more emphasis on new books at the front of the shop is a good idea - it confuses the shop's identity in my view. And I can't understand why you'd give so much space to a children's book section and yet give so little thought to how you organise and care for the books you put on the shelves. Frankly that section is a shambles.

I'm guessing that the shop is largely staffed by student help - at least that's the impression I got. They seemed polite and keen to be helpful which was in stark contrast to the person I took to be the shop manager (owner?) who was surly and dealt with customers in a very off-hand fashion. While I was there someone trying to sell books was treated so badly I was surprised they didn't take their books elsewhere - with an attitude like that no shop deserves to do well.

The changes to the shop were quite a blow to me - I feel I've lost an old friend. It goes to show just how precarious the right atmosphere is and how easy it is to lose it. Perhaps the way back starts with loving the books a little bit more?


Terry Potter

September 2015