Tens of thousands of demonstrators on the Bucharest street are still hoping to shame the new Romanian government into wholesale resignation and it therefore hardly seems an appropriate time to devote a post to the closing of an independent bookshop - but the Anthony Frost English Bookshop in central Bucharest is no ordinary bookshop. It has been called “one of Central Europe’s best” – has been delighting bibliophiles for almost a decade and belongs to a very small number of places to which I have dedicated the phrase “oases of civilisation” or sanctuaries of originality
They are generally galleries or bookshops whose owners have a real art of creating an atmosphere in which people can quietly explore - whether by flicking, viewing or chatting.
All is hopefully not lost, however. The catalyst to the decision seems to have been the rent – the Orthodox church which own the premises clearly doesn’t understand the spiritual value of culture – or, more precisely perhaps, all too well understands the threat of foreign ideas…..
So Vlad will be exploring other locations and premises and I, rashly, promised to send him some ideas for broadening the shop’s appeal. I well understand that the focus on English-language books rather limits its clientele…..presumably it is only the passing foreign journalist who will drop in - not your typical (British/Commonwealth) tourist!
Oscar Wilde, of course, got it right when he said - "I always pass on good advice.....it's the only thing to do with it…!!" In that vein, let me repeat what I have written to Vlad -
There was apparently quite an emotional reaction to the news of the closing - confirming just how much we value the “experience” we are offered when we enter….the friendship, the range of books on offer, the music, the conversation, coffee…..Only in private art galleries in Sofia do I have this “elevated” experience ….
People only notice such things when they are gone…..Now that your customers have realized their loss, they have the chance to do something to bring it back….so let’s ask what THEY can do.
Your customers deserve a note thanking them for their custom – with an indication that you are hoping to open up elsewhere and an invitation to help shape a strategy….Perhaps Survey Monkey could be used to design a simple questionnaire?
Perhaps key academics in the various cities in the country might be visited who are in a position to recommend key English texts – whether in language or management courses – for their students to buy from you?And reading circles are another good way in which those wishing to improve their English could help you boost the sales of selected books…..Britain these days needs all the friends it can muster – perhaps the British Embassy can be persuaded to get involved in a new strategy (clearly you would have to prepare very carefully for such an approach)
This blogger mentions his feelings – touching on some public events in your bookshop which I hadn’t been aware of – so obviously data bases and social media are important. I had always wanted to come to an event – even contribute…….I realize that any display of paintings takes wall space you otherwise need for book shelves – and well appreciate that you’re in a zero-sum situation here….But linking up with some vineyards could be another way of attracting custom. There are not so many wine shops in central Bucharest….(I speak as an expert!).
Our Irish friends have a nice saying for such an occasion - "May the wind be at your back"!!
One of the books which I pulled from my shelves as I was scribbling this was a little book which bore the Frost English bookshop sticker - it was "Stop what you're doing a Read This!" - a manifesto from 2011 from a dozen writers about the importance of "gateways to reading" physical books - such as libraries and bookshops. However difficult in these populist times, this is the argument we need conducted........