Co-owner of City Books
Are you local? I’m not. I was born and bred in Twickenham. But my husband, Paul, is a Brightonian. We met many moons ago when we were both employees of WH Smith’s, when they had proper bookshops. Our eyes met across a training room. We’ve worked in every branch of Smith’s from Hastings to Portsmouth between us.
When did you set up City Books? 31 years ago. We could see the way it was going, we were still young, and we thought: ‘It’s now or never’. We were living in Portsmouth and Southsea, which we loved, but we knew that a bookshop wouldn’t work down there. Not what we wanted to do. Paul knew that Brighton was where we needed to look, and there was a remainder bookshop already here, which we bought. A lot of what we do is recommending books to our customers and expanding their reading. That’s part of the pleasure: ‘You liked that, well have you tried this?’ We also love to bring authors to speak in the city. Will Self was the first, about 17 years ago, and since then we’ve had the likes of Tony Benn, Vic Reeves, Vivienne Westwood and David Attenborough.
Who are your customers? With two universities in the town, we get a lot of students. Then there’s the customers who come in every other day and we’re part of their social network. They’ve convinced their families to just give them book tokens and can normally get from Christmas to their birthday without spending too much of their own money. We get to know some of them very well, and they all love independents and are keen to make sure that we survive. I do wish people wouldn’t always keep talking bookshops down. Stop talking them down or they will die. That happens with books too. We’ve lived with the ‘death of the book’ since I started bookselling in 1981, and the books are still here, strong as ever.
Why do you think people still want print? Isn’t it so lovely? To feel it. Smell it. You can mark it if you want to (which gives me the heebeegeebees), you can turn your pages down (which makes me feel quite ill), you can break the spine (which I hate). And you can snoop on a train and see what people are reading. You can’t do that with screens. We’ve struck up wonderful conversations with so many people just because of what they are reading.
Is Brighton a good place to run an independent bookshop? It is. People want something alternative, something unusual. They don’t want pile-it-high-and-sell-it-cheap, necessarily. They want us to have a whole section on Africa, on North Korea, they want the latest book on Brexit. Stockholding bookshops do well in Brighton because people want to be better informed.
What do you like most about the city? I love the fact that you can walk down the road and nobody bats an eyelid at who’s who, who’s wearing what, who’s doing what. No one worries. Anything goes. There isn’t really anything I don’t like, apart from maybe the parking. I feel really proud of our city. Even in miserable weather it’s an inspiring place to be.
What do you do on a day off? We don’t often get weekends off, but I love to meet friends for lunch or tea. I love the dippy eggs upstairs at I Gigi, if I go in the morning, and their bubble & squeak. If I’m going for tea, Terre à Terre is really special. And the Hidden Pantry on Blatchington Road is wonderful for breakfast. I’m an early bird. Once it gets dark, I just want to go to bed.
Photo by Adam Bronkhorst
23 Western Rd, Hove, BN3 1AF