Keeping It Local…

19/07/2011

‘A new Hollinghurst novel is always a great literary event.  And his latest could be his greatest yet… History is more likely to see Hollinghurst for what he is – not a gay writer, but a great writer’
Observer 

It never fails to amaze me how many people bemoan the loss of town centres, local shops, community spirit and the like, whilst ordering their books exclusively from Amazon or doing all their food shopping at the out-of-town supermarket. “It’s such a shame the fishmonger / deli / bookshop closed down” you will hear them say. I beg you to ask them… “When was the last time you bought something there?” I will wager nine times out of ten that they either won’t recall, or if they can it was so long ago that it defies accurate mention.

I don’t think it is necessarily the consumers’ fault entirely. Local businesses can sometimes appear, for want of a better word, lazy… expecting customers to grace their shopfloor (and fill their tills) regardless of whether or not the windows are appealing, the merchandise compelling, having made little or no effort to entice them in with a differentiated offer. Cheap, worn fixtures and fittings and even worse demotivated, low paid team members can make “shopping local” a very dismal experience, leaving one clamouring for the polish of the West End or the convenience of the drive in – shop – drive out experience of an out of town mall.

I was fortunate to hear (via a friend) that an independent bookshop in Bloomsbury called Gays The Word (for it specialises in gay-orientated titles) was this evening hosting an evening with one of my favourite authors, Alan Hollinghurst. A Man Booker Prizewinner (for The Line of Beauty) Hollinghurst has a new novel out, The Stranger’s Child, and was promoting the book with a reading and booksigning in a fab little bar near the shop called The New Bloomsbury Set. This is the perfect example of a small business doing something not only to promote its own product and engage with customers, but also to expand and share the benefits with another local business in rainforest-esque symbiosis… a bookshop and a bar joining forces for their mutual enrichment and for the enjoyment of their customers. It was a sell-out evening and a lovely Tuesday night passtime for the assembled crowd, who enjoyed selected passages from the book and then a Q&A with the author.

The book is fantastic and I would definitely recommend Hollinghurst’s work. But the point of this post is not the book. It is a wake up call to small independent retailers and shops everywhere… take a leaf out of Gays The Word’s book and put yourself out there. A tasting hosted by a noteworthy local farmer or chef… a booksigning, reading, concert… whatever it is, promote yourself to customers old and new in ways which engage and excite them. Getting to you might not be as easy as getting to the supermarket, so make it worth your customers’ while with fabulous friendly service and a reason to go out of their way. Add value to their experience and they will be back, spreading the word about you to new customers.

But just as important is a wake up call to customers too. Buy local every now and then or indeed whenever you can… support your local bookshop (Amazon is a godsend but don’t get lazy!) cornershop or deli. Go in frequently and find out what’s new and above all, support their events and happenings whenever possible. Your local community depends on them and they in turn depend on you.

Gays The Word Bookshop
66 Marchmont Street
London
WC1N 1AB
www.gaystheword.co.uk
020 7278 7654

Reviews of the book, which is out now, can be found by clicking here
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