Inspiring Older Readers
Black Book Cafe, Stroud
Situated on the ground floor of a rather lovely art deco building called The Silver Rooms in Nelson Street, Stroud, The Black Book Cafe has recently had a bit of a redecorative overhaul as the result of a new manager taking the reins. I really love the concept of a cafe within a bookshop - I suspect this is a dream combination that plenty of people have fantasised about being part of but which is actually more difficult to do than it might seem.
The Black Book Cafe clearly has aspirations to be the hub of a community and in my experience plenty of people come and go - sometimes too many for my taste and it can get a bit crowded and steamy in there. The new layout helps with that because I get the impression that the tables and chairs have been thinned out somewhat allowing more space between customers. However, if the cafe works ok - and I suspect that is really the main source of income - the book shop element doesn't really fly.
The books are set out on floor to ceiling shelving units that go right around the shop walls but, being an old deco building, the ceilings are very high and lots books are well above twice head height. There are step ladders for the intrepid but I suspect very few people actually make the climb. Given that most of the floor space is given over to the cafe, getting access to the shelves can be awkward - not just in terms of gaining physical access. It's almost impossible to browse the shelves without feeling that you're evesdropping someone's conversation at the table. However incidently entertaining that can be, it doesn't exactly put you at ease when you're looking for a bargain.
It also has to be said that the quality of the stock for sale isn't great. I have struggled to buy more than the odd book on any visit and it doesn't help that the pricing policy is distinctly hit and miss - some books are priced but plenty aren't and some seem to have prices that come from some realm of fantasy.
Still, having said all that, I'm really glad this place exists and I hope it does eventually flourish both as a cafe and a bookshop. I would love to think that it's still possible to have a cultural centre to a small county town like this and building that around books can only be a good thing. Pay a visit when you can and take a load off your feet in congenial surroundings.