Back in January I was lucky enough to visit The Little Ripon Bookshop to sign some copies of Our Endless Numbered Days. I couldn’t have been made more welcome – coffee and biscuits, a little table by the door, a display of my books (and toothpaste, Spam and string) in the window, and a stream of customers who so clearly came because they love this little bookshop, its owners and staff.
Here’s my interview with Gill, one of the owners.
Can you tell me something about the history of the Little Ripon Bookshop?
We opened in July 2009 having moved to Ripon the year before. We’d deliberately chosen to move to a place without a bookshop, in case we found the courage to open one! This is a cathedral city with excellent schools and we felt that it should have an independent bookshop. Simon and I had both worked in the book industry before, me as a buyer and Simon on the systems side (I’m still not sure what he does), so we had some experience behind us.
What’s your favourite section?
I think the picture books are my favourites because of the combination of pictures and words. It’s very hard to get right, but now and again an absolute gem comes along and stands out amongst the rest. We read stories to pre-schoolers every Tuesday afternoon and I love to see which of the stories go down the best.
If you had infinite space what would you add?
Sofas, more books, coffee, more books, stationery, more books, an event space, more books…
What’s the hardest thing about managing an independent bookshop?
Trying to know everything. Customers expect us to know every author and every subject and every book. We do our best.
Who is your favourite customer?
My favourite customer is 91 year old Leo who is on his 28th loyalty card and wears one of our I Love the Little Ripon Bookshop badges on his hat. He is probably the most intelligent, charming, articulate person I know.
What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever had to deal with in the bookshop?
A customer came in and asked for the latest book by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. We were a bit confused and said that he’d been dead for a while and had nothing new out. The customer was adamant that she’d seen him on Good Morning Britain and that he had a new book published that week. After much confusion it transpired that she had said ‘Alfie Boe, tenor singer’ but we’d both misheard her. She must have thought we were crazy.
What’s your best/first memory of visiting a bookshop?
I can’t remember being taken to bookshops as a child – we used the library every week. I was also a member of the Puffin Club and adored getting its magazine through the post.
What would you like your customers to do differently?
I would like them to stop using the word Kindle in the shop.
What would you like authors or publishers to do differently?
I would like contemporary fiction to be published in paperback at the same time as the hardback and ebooks to be the same price. I would like authors to link to an independent bookshop from their website, rather than to Amazon.
What’s been the biggest surprise of managing an independent bookshop?
I imagined that there would be lots of reading time in the shop! There isn’t any.
What fairly unknown book do you think more people should know about?
I loved Elizabeth Knox’s book The Vintner’s Luck.
What book are you currently recommending / hand-selling?
July 2016). It’s very quirky and the writing is clever and wry. I am handselling Melissa Harrison’s At Hawthorn time, Our Endless Numbered Days(!) and The Running Hare by John Lewis Stempel (gorgeous jacket).
How can people visit / get in touch with you?
We are at 13 Westgate, Ripon, North Yorkshire. HG4 2AT www.littleriponbookshop.co.uk
I am just starting out on Instagram as Bookshop Gilly