What would you do, if you could do anything in the world? One of the things I answer is: open a bookshop, that has a coffee shop inside. It seems a fanciful dream, out of my reach. But Mary Manley, and her husband Stuart, thought and did just that in Alnwick, in 1991. They opened Barter Books and turned an 800 sq ft room in Stuart’s business, into an 8000 sq ft bookworm’s heaven. Their stock has increased from 10k books to now over 350k books. And to top it all, at the time they had a huge overdraft and were approaching middle age. Their bookshop, Barter Books, is one of the largest second-hand bookshops in Europe and one of the North East’s biggest tourist attractions, with over 350k visitors every year.
Barter Books resides in the old Victorian railway station (1887-1968) of Alnwick. The bookshop uses a barter system, but you can also use cash and it houses antique to contemporary books; children’s books; a café; comfy seating; open fires and three 40ft murals. There are children playing in the children’s room; dogs snoozing and people browsing, reading and chatting. Barter Books also runs two book groups per month and has visiting authors giving monthly talks. Whenever I visit I usually come away with a few books and recently I’ve started meeting a Writing Buddy there… it’s the ideal place for writerly chats. If you’ve never been then I suggest a visit… it’s quite something!
For someone like me, who adores books, then I really am in heaven. I read the other month that the smell of old books releases endorphins. No wonder I can spend hours there. No wonder I love libraries too. No wonder I burst into tears when I saw the leather bound, first editions in Trinity Library, Dublin. Books are special in more ways than one.
And on Friday 20 October, at 12 noon, Mary Manley will be talking at Berwick Literary Festival, about her special bookshop. You can hear her at the Holy Trinity Parish Centre, Berwick. Tickets cost £5. Go to https://berwickliteraryfestival.com for more information about her talk and other events happening over that weekend and how to buy tickets. I’ll be there for sure. I’m looking forward to hearing about Mary’s experiences and what she and Stuart plan for Barter Books in the future. Come along and join me.