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What it's like to run a bookshop: Twice Told Tales in Ironbridge and Booka in Oswestry

By Heather Large | Weekend | Published:

There is nothing like a good book. The crisp, clean pages offer the perfect way to unwind and escape from the realities of daily life.

Page turners – Carrie and Tim Morris, at Booka in Oswestry

When e-readers emerged on the scene, there were fears we could fall out of love with the traditional paperback. But after reaching a peak in 2014, sales of e-books have now slowed down and sales of printed books are surging, rising by five per cent in the UK last year.

It’s good news for independent bookshops and among those witnessing first-hand the book boom are Tim and Carrie Morris who are the husband and wife team behind Booka in Oswestry.

The bookshop and cafe is a hive of activity selling both fiction and non-fiction, cards, gifts and toys and offering reading clubs and an extensive author events programme bringing well-known faces to the town.

And for Tim and Carrie they is no better feeling than knowing they have helped someone find the perfect book. “Putting the right book into a customer’s hand and have that customer then return to the shop and say ‘I loved that book’ is great,” Tim tells Weekend.

But when they opened the shop nine years ago they didn’t really know what to expect as they had no prior experience in either the book or retail industries.

“I was a primary school teacher but I wanted a change from that,” says Carrie. “It was the height of recession and lots of shops were closing down so there were opportunities and it was something we had already talked about,” she adds.

“A lot of people have the idea of opening a book shop but they never see it through. We did but it was like stepping into the unknown. We were newbie booksellers and some people gave us a year. But we had a clear idea of the sort of book shop we wanted to create,” says former town planner Tim.

“We wanted to create a third place that people could spent time in and feel relaxed, where they could browse without feeling rushed, attend events and where they could get a really good cup of coffee. Customers have taken now ownership of the bookshop and refer to it as ‘our bookshop’. There is no greater compliment than that,” adds Tim.

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No two days are the same for the couple who both say they enjoy meeting customers, both familiar faces and those visiting the first time.

“It’s all about the book buying experience, we want to make the best we can so they want to come back,” explains Tim.

WATCH: Life among the book shelves

What its like to run an independent bookshop

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Thanks to their determination and hard work, the bustling shop has thrived, becoming part of the community and winning numerous industry awards including being named UK & Ireland Independent Bookshop of the Year in 2015.

The team holds more than 40 author events each year, regularly attracting famous names, such as Monty Python stalwart Michael Palin, international best-selling author Jodi Picoult and food writer and entrepreneur Ella Mills, who are lined up in the coming months.

They also have four adult book clubs and seven for children. “It’s a good way to engage with readers and find out what books our book clubs have enjoyed so we can make sure we are selling the books people want to read,” says Tim.

The couple, who also work with schools to help encourage a passion for reading, started with just the ground-floor but last year they expanded the business to provide an additional floor of retail space and an area for events.

“We are always striving to be the best book shop,” says Tim.

And an increase in the number of new books flying off the shelves has has also been welcomed by second-hand book shops.

For the past three and a half years Meg Prince has been at the helm of Ironbridge Bookshop located in the heart of the riverside town. She sells mostly second-hand titles but also specialises in Penguin books from the 1930s and 40s, treasured collectables and work by local authors.

Read all about it – Meg Prince at Twice Told Tales in Ironbridge

Her shop is an Aladdin’s cave packed full of 16,500 books allowing her to cater for a vast range of tastes and appeal to bookworms of all ages.

Running her own book shop was a natural progression for the 22-year-old who always had her nose in a book when she was young and lists Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett among her favourite authors.

“I’ve always been a big reader. When I went on holiday my suitcase would be full of books, not clothes.

“I started working at the shop from a young age and the previous owner taught me a lot,” says Meg who offers a wide range of fiction, non-fiction, local interest and children’s books.

“The books are mostly second-hand and I get a lot donated to me by local people. I also get them from auctions, house clearances and book sales. A lot of the kids books are new because I find that tastes change quickly,” she tells us.

Working in a bookshop is a dream come true for Meg who says she loves meeting other readers. But sometimes being surrounded by new titles can be too much temptation.

“Someone has just dropped off a delivery of books for me and I’m already eyeing up the pile,” she tells us.

She is expecting a busy summer with children enjoying their break from school and visitors to the town from across the region and further afield hopefully popping into the shop.

“I enjoy meeting people, finding out what they are are reading and why they are in Ironbridge. I hope I’m encouraging other young people because I know I’m quite young to be running a shop. There is a stigma surrounding young people but hopefully I’m showing that you can go out and do something you believe in,” explains Meg.

She says there is still a strong appetite for paperbacks and hardbacks with e-books not matching up to their traditional counterparts.

“E-readers are good for convenience like if you are travelling but people still want to read a physical book.

“Although I sell mostly second-hand, more sales of new books is good for me as the more people buying new books, the more books there are being passed around and sold on. It’s a good time to own a bookshop,” says Meg.

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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