When Clive Keeble started to look for premises to open a bookshop “somewhere in Somerset or East Devon” his priorities were “good motorway access and a town on that’s the up.” He chose Wellington.
“There’s been a real resurgence here in recent years and, although Waitrose has made a big difference to Wellington, it’s more than that,” he explained. He was impressed by “footfall” – the number of people in the centre of the town attracted by the enviable range of shops, many of them independent retailers.
Keeble Bookshop is one of the trade’s ‘good news’ stories, being one of only 26 independent bookshops to have opened nationally in a year that has seen 67 closures and the total to have fallen below 1000 for the first time. Fierce discounting by chains such as Waterstones and Amazon and the growth of the ebook market are seen as the main causes of this dramatic decline. “I can see that number falling further – to maybe 100,” Clive Keeble predicted. Having run bookshops in Langport, Sherborne and Winchester, he knows what he is talking about.
So, how will Keeble Bookshop attempt to attract customers in a market where so many others have failed? “By having different stock, a close relationship with publishers, an existing client base in the region and a reputation for providing reliable, personal service. Amazon and Waterstones only stock what they can sell in bulk. I have a huge stock but it’s extremely varied. For example, I am one of the largest stockists of Taschen books in the country, the only place where certain editions – ‘Jazz Life’ for example – can be found,” he said. “I can also source any book anyone wants.”
Keeble Bookshop stocks only new books, many of them non-fiction titles covering art, music, travel, local history and literature; there are also some fine picture books for pre-school children. “The market for older children is so vast and diverse that it’s difficult to cover but for young children the range is smaller,” he explained. “I have plans to hold a workshop in the summer, perhaps featuring a children’s book illustrator.”
Tim Godfrey, Chief Executive of the Booksellers’ Association, said recently that bookshops are “an important cultural and community hub, making a vital contribution to the health of our high streets and local economies.” For Clive Keeble to have opened his bookshop in Wellington, it suggests that the town’s high street is fit and well.