Books On The Hill is an independent bookshop in Clevedon which is run by Dr. Alistair Sims and his partner, Chloe Smirk. Here, Alistair talks about the surprises and challenges of running a bookshop, as well as what they’re looking forward to in 2016. You can find their website here: booksonthehill.co.uk and on Twitter @BooksOnTheHill.
What was your inspiration for opening a bookshop?
There are a number of different reasons we choose to open a bookshop; firstly our love of books, secondly – as I am dyslexic – it was for me at least a new challenge after completing my PhD in archaeology. Added to this both of mine and Chloe’s families have always joked about us running a bookshop one day. We always believed we would one day open and run a bookshop, though not for many years, so in the end the practicalities of needing a job coupled with the opportunity of a prime location led us to where we are now.
What has surprised you most about the book trade?
What surprised us most and in fact still surprises us is the fact that the book trade does not surprise us. Our reps all first thought that we’d had years in the book trade before this, which wasn’t the case. However what we have learned and continue to learn does not surprise us. The book trade is challenging and sometimes it seems as though there is too much too remember, yet is that not like any other business? Also it was accepting that no matter how thorough the research there will always be something new for someone to tell us, always a new aspect to learn. Such things are to be expected. In the book trade its best to expect everything as there is most certainly a book out there for everything, also books are highly subjective and people are unpredictable.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
The biggest challenge to face is a difficult one to answer. Any business venture has its challenges. Running a bookshop is ultimately a retail game so it inevitably comes down to interactions with ones customers. For me the biggest challenge is not to interfere with customers who I feel are curtailing or restricting their child’s reading. For Chloe, it is the fact that newspapers review books that have yet to be published, but customers assume they are already out. The biggest challenge as we see it (and also the most rewarding one) is the ongoing opportunity to tailor our stock to the wants and needs of our area.
What are you most excited about for your shop in the coming year?
The most exciting thing in the coming year is working with schools to hold events, including one with a newly published author M.G. Leonard, with her book Beetle Boy. I’m very excited by M.G Leonard coming, as she is such a great storyteller, and when she reads her books they really come to life. School events and opportunities to work with children are important for me, as I struggled to read as a child, and I want to help children and adults alike to enjoy books as much as I have come to.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of opening a bookshop?
Booksellers, we have found, are often quite willing to share their experiences. Talk to them as much as possible. Nick Bottomley of Mr B’s was most helpful to us and our last piece advice comes straight from him: Be nice to your delivery drivers.