Oh yes, this Small But Big series is officially BACK, baby! For those of you who don’t know, I love (to the point of obsession) small businesses. I want to work and shop with them as much as possible, and shout them out on every platform I have. Well, today I am overjoyed to be shouting about The Hastings Bookshop; a newbie to the infamous Trinity Triangle, and a welcome addition to our town as a whole. I was very excited to interview Charlie, the book lover behind it all…
What’s your story? How did The Hastings Bookshop come to be?
It’s been my dream to open a shop in Hastings for a very long time. I grew up down here and it is such a special, warm and caring place – it deserves a really amazing bookshop. Book selling is in my blood I guess – most of my family are in the book biz. My mum and dad actually met when they were working in a bookshop together – goals! I’ve been selling books myself since the age of 16. I worked at Waterstones for a bit and then spent a few years working at this amazing bookshop on Tooley Street, near London Bridge, called The Riverside Bookshop – I learnt a lot and made some great mates there, I still love those guys dearly. Alongside my book selling I studied Sociology at Goldsmiths and then did an MA in Modern European Philosophy at Kingston University. I sometimes still write about philosophy, I’ve recently had a few pieces on French and African philosophy translated into Arabic and published by my good friend Oumar Azzeradj, an excellent Algerian/British philosopher and cultural critic who now lives in St Leonards. During the first lockdown I realised that the future of our industry lies in small, local, independent bookshops and publishers who have a really close relationship with their customers. With this new shop, I’m trying to combine a modern, contemporary selection of books (which try to deal with current social and political issues), and a classic, old-school approach to book selling; for example, recommending a book you think a customer would actually like to read, rather that what you are being told to hand sell by some company big shot. I have complete freedom to stock what I want in this shop and therefore I can make the stock list a genuine reflection of the interests of our community – Amazon and the book selling chains just can’t compete with that.
You’re tucked away in Trinity Triangle, arguably the nicest part of the ‘new’ town. What’s it like being there?
Being part of the Trinity Triangle gang is one of the main things that makes this shop so special. I first saw the shop that we are now in whilst sitting over the road having a coffee from Stooge (Shout Out Stooge – they do the very best coffee in town – hands down!). I just thought to myself, ‘hey, a bookshop is just what this street needs’! I think our customer base is really compatible with the other local businesses on this stretch – in a few steps you can buy records from Wow and Flutter, a book from The Hastings Bookshop, a banging coffee from Stooge and stock up on supplies from the legendary Hastings institution that is Trinity Wholefoods. We all help each other out too – it’s a proper community and it just looks drop-dead gorgeous – I’m super stoked to be in this spot.
It’s fair to say you opened at a very tricky time. How are you operating in Lockdown 2.0?
We only had 4 days of proper trade before we had to close for Lockdown 2.0 – which obviously wasn’t ideal timing, but you know what, it’s actually worked out really well for us! We got loads of press (probs because people felt sorry for us lol) so we ended up getting loads of people through the door when we first opened, which we maybe wouldn’t have had opening in ‘normal’ circumstances. It has also given us a bit of time to put together a fully-functioning delivery and collection service. We have the door open (with a protective screen for safety) Monday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm, for socially-distanced click and collect. We have also been doing local deliveries and sending out books nationally and internationally. It’s been cool but I’m itching to get people back in and browsing again – I think bookshops rely on browsing more than other places, so fingers crossed not long left now.
Okay, the toughest Q: what is your favourite book? Or genre, or author?
This is the hardest question for any book lover to answer, haha! It changes every day. At the moment I’d probably say my all-time favourite is Audre Lorde (her revival amongst young readers is just sooo amazing and encouraging to see) or James Baldwin. I also love Gwendoline Riley (who has a new novel due next year that I’m already raving about!). Oh, and Ben Lerner! To be honest, I have to stop myself now because I could go on forever.
When all the 2020 madness is over, what are you hoping to do with the shop in the future?
I have so many plans for the shop in the (hopefully not so distant) future. We have an amazing basement space here which I want to use for events. Book events, such as reading clubs, signings, readings etc, but also more general community events; kids art club, exhibitions, revolutionary political meetings – whatever people want to use the space for really! We have a really close relationship with authors and publishers here so I’m certain we can put on some really great events soon. I also want to collaborate with the neighbours on some events. So yeah, watch this space.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Charlie. You’re a gem. You’ve well and truly smashed it with your shop despite lockdown, and it’s only going to get bigger and better now it’s (hopefully) over!