For Readers

The 7 Habits of Truly Awesome Bookstores

When you read as much as I do, bookshops become more than just bookshops (or bookstores, depending what side of the Atlantic you’re on).

They become magical places – gateways to far-off lands and exciting adventures.

I’ve fallen in love with quite a few bookshops in my time but there’s a special corner of my heart reserved for Hodges Figgis in Dublin.

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Now owned by corporate giant, Waterstones, this is Dublin’s oldest booksellers – first opening its doors in 1768.

It even got a mention in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

But that’s not why I love it.

My love for HF began as a child…long before I’d even heard of Ulysses (much less tried, and failed, to read it).

Because it ticks all the bookstore boxes.

And to find out what those boxes are, read on:

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The 7 Habits of Truly Awesome Bookstores

1.They hire knowledgeable staff

It should go without saying, but if you work at a bookshop, you need to be well-read.

I want someone who can take a look at my choices and recommend something I’ll love.

Who can tell me in a second whether something’s in stock, or my favourite author has a new book out.

And who also serves me with a smile, and gives me a free bookmark (this has happened, and I am not above being bought with freebies).

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2. They are a part of their community

The best bookstores are just places to buy books.

They’re also where you go to meet your favourite authors, hear poetry readings, join book clubs and participate in charity book drives.

They don’t just serve their community, they’re a part of it.

3. They have comfy reading nooks

When I was little, Saturday mornings meant hours in bookshops.

I’d abandon my parents at the door, and run to the children’s area (which always had the best areas to curl up with a paperback).

Bookshops are time portals. They’re supposed to be inviting, comfortable and a great place to hide out (from the rain, from to-do lists, from annoying parents).

Nooks are an essential part of that appeal. Soft seats, cushion-laden sofas and tucked-away hidey-holes give a bookstore charm and warmth.

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4. They are kid-friendly

Those Saturday mornings weren’t just fun for me, they were also a welcome break for my parents.

Abandoning your child to a bookshop is win/win. Parents get much-needed alone time, kids acquire a love of literature that will stay with them forever.

That’s why the best bookshops have a diverse kid’s selection, a fun area for them to read in and staff who know what’s age appropriate and how to get younger readers fired up about books.

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5. They have history

This is where Hodges Figgis wins hands down.

When you’ve been in the business since 1768, you know a thing or two about selling books.

You also have a long relationship with your customers, a deep knowledge of the publishing industry and a well-earned place in your community.

And, if it’s really really old and distinguished, a bookshop might become a tourist attraction in its own right.

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6. They have a diverse selection

It’s not possible for a bookshop to stock everything, but it should aim for a well-rounded collection.

The best readers read widely and without prejudice.

They also often want a book to fit their mood – whether they want to be amused, challenged, comforted or educated.

It’s a bookshops duty to have a full arsenal on hand so they can help their reader have their best reading experience.

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7. They have a good (memorable) name

I mentioned Hodges Figgis to an English friend of mine once.

What’s it called?” he said, aghast. “That sounds like a skin disease.”

He may have a point, but it’s a great name because it’s unusual, striking and memorable.

Other great names include:

  • Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights (in Bath, England)
  • Moby Dickens (in New Mexico, although sadly closed now)
  • Malaprop’s (in Asheville, North Carolina)
  • Wild Rumpus (kid’s bookstore in Minneapolis)

Some are funny, some are witty, some are downright odd but all good bookshop names have something common – they stick in the mind, and keep you coming back.

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