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Bailey Hill Bookshop, UK

We were very sad to hear of the death of Lynn Johnston on 15 May 2016 aged 67. Below is an interview she did with Batch in 2010.

Lynn Johnston explains how she runs her shop in Castle Cary, Somerset. Contact the shop to be added to the mailing list for Bailey Hill's monthly newsletter.

Where is your shop? Castle Cary, a traditional Somerset market town with a population of 2,000 people about 24 miles south of Bath and 12 miles north-east of Yeovil. The centre is full of thriving independent shops.

How long have you had the Bailey Hill Bookshop? I bought it as a going concern six years ago. Previously I had run a shop in nearby Wells, but that closed after Ottakars moved in. The previous owner had stocked lot of military titles (we're quite near the Yeovilton Air Base), but I completely changed the stock. The building was formerly a draper’s shop and has two large, open downstairs rooms and a mezzanine joined by a central staircase. We have transformed the space under the staircase into a den where children can take books to read. Adults can help themselves to fresh coffee and biscotti.

Do you sell non-book items? We have a selection of vintage prints, CDs and interesting greetings cards.

How would you describe the current state of the book trade? It’s difficult and unpredictable. It has been predicted that 25% of the market will go to ebooks in five years’ time. Whether that’s a problem depends on what sector of the industry it affects: if it’s taking business from the supermarkets, that’s okay as it won’t affect the independents so much. The main danger is Amazon because they are ruthless and discount phenomenally. They are a monopoly: you can only buy books for Kindle from Amazon.

What do you do at Bailey Hill Bookshop to get around these problems? We sell books that the supermarkets and chains don’t want to sell, and we provide good customer service: you get expertise about books from independent bookshops. We’re different from online sources in that you get to see the books first. It’s also about choice and the kind of world you want to live in.

Do you organise in-store events? Yes, we work with local authors. I’m about to start work with a fundraiser for a local hospice who will be organising literary events and lunches in local venues. I will get the authors and provide the books, which will help to promote the shop.

Do you work alone? No, I have Sarah and Claire who share a full-time role and Alice, our ‘Saturday girl’.

Where do your customers come from and do you have any rivals locally? Our customers are mainly from Castle Cary itself, although we try to draw them from a wider area. Our main competitors in the region are Sherborne Bookshop and Waterstone’s in Yeovil.

How important is it for Bailey Hill to have an online presence? It’s very important. We sell our second-hand books through the website.

What do you enjoy about the business? The customers are really nice people, and it is satisfying to put readers and books together. We don’t promote books that get a lot of hype in the media.

How do you choose which books to stock? My choice is based on book reviews, particularly those in the Telegraph, the Literary Review and the Guardian. We don’t bother with the Bookseller. It is difficult to keep the diversity of stock that we have here. The second-hand books are shelved alongside new titles.

What categories are doing well at the moment? Espionage is selling well for both children and adults; Scandinavian crime is popular and knitting books have started to sell again. We sell a lot of children’s titles, especially toddler books. We also supply several local schools.

Why are bookshops important? Bookshops are good community centres. It’s important that people can browse. One thing that online sellers can’t offer is serendipity: a chance find or an overheard conversation about a book.

How helpful do you find BA initiatives such as the Independent Book Forum, IndieBound and the Christmas Book Catalogue? The IBF is much better now that it is a separate entity and I attend meetings. IndieBound is good, but I’ve given up on the Christmas Catalogue.

What do you think of Batch? I find Batch really very helpful. It makes doing the accounts easier and cuts down on paperwork. The system is easy to use and efficient. I use the Returns element when I can and would use it more if more companies were on it.

Bailey Hill Bookshop
Fore Street
Castle Cary
Somerset BA7 7BG
Tel: 01963 350917

Lynn Johnston was speaking to Janet Ravenscroft. A shortened version of this article first appeared in Bookselling Essentials, March 2011.