Bear Bookshop, Smethwick

Bear Bookshop, Smethwick, a lovely little children’s specialist near Birmingham.

It’s always nice to see a children’s book specialist, a beautiful place for story times and other activities.

Bear Bookshop
588 Bearwood Rd
Bearwood
Smethwick
B66 4BW
Telephone: 0121 794 1959

Website: https://bearbookshop.co.uk/
Twitter: @bookshop_bear
Facebook: @bearbookshop
Instagram: @bearbookshop

In their own words

How did you come up with the name of your bookshop?

The shop is named after the local area-Bearwood. (It is even situated on the Bearwood Road) It is where I live and I love it; there is such a strong sense of community here-more so than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. I wanted the name of the shop to have a strong sense of the identity of the area, and always planned it to be a very community focused business.

Who are you? Owns the bookshop? Bit of a bio and pics, please

My name is Jenny, I am a mum of 3, I was an English teacher for 15 years before opening a bookshop.

Why a bookshop? What made you want to get into bookselling?

It was always a dream for me! And after having my third baby, and with my eldest starting school, I wanted to do something a little closer to home and that my own family could be more involved in. I have always LOVED reading and passionately believe that encouraging your child to be a reader is the best thing you can do for them academically and in terms of their well-being. It’s also something that is so universal and accessible, it doesn’t cost much money, it doesn’t take up much space or time.

General background/history of the shop please

The shop had lain empty for a few years, but prior to this it was also a bookshop! It is near to some amazing local cafes and both Lightwoods Park and Warley Woods, so it’s somewhere you could come and spend some time with your family, rather than just offering a retail transaction.

Do you stock a variety of genres or do you specialise?

We specialise in children’s books.

Do you mainly sell new or second-hand books?

Mainly new.

What makes your bookshop special?

We have a really diverse range of titles. Being just outside of Birmingham, I wanted the books we stock to be reflective of our community. We are also the only specialist children’s bookshop in the area.

What’s the hardest thing about being a bookseller?

At the moment, I am The Bear Bookshop’s only member of staff, so definitely juggling all the roles needed to run a business. It’s also my first business so it’s been a steep learning curve!

What’s the best thing about being a bookseller?

Helping people find something they really love!

What’s the most surprising thing about being a bookseller?

How little time I get to read!

What are the goals for your bookshop?

When the restrictions are lifted, I want it to be a really busy and thriving place for people to bring their children. Lots of story times, activities and groups for local people to access.

Do you think owning a bookshop has changed your life? How?

Definitely for the better! Even though I’m always working, it never feels like work!

What book do you wish would sell better?

The books for older children-we have some great teenage fiction. And poetry! I think everyone should read more poetry.

What is your preferred reading genre?

Fiction. I love the escapism of a good story, especially now.

Describe your store in three words.

Creative, inquisitive, friendly

What book is your greatest treasure? Why?

I have a copy of ‘Peepo’ that was one of the first presents for my daughter when she was born, and is my baby’s favourite at the moment-we must read it 4 or 5 bedtimes a week. It’s been through 3 children now so it’s a been knocked about a bit, but that makes me love it even more.

What was your favourite childhood book? Why?

It’s very hard to choose. I remember reading all of Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl etc in my childhood in the 80s. I’ve really enjoyed revisiting some old favourites with my own children too-they all had ‘The Just So Stories’ and ‘Winnie the Pooh’ when they were tiny babies. And I have a sister who is ten years younger than me, so I’ve also loved reading the same books I used to read to her-Can’t You Sleep Little Bear, and the Winnie the Witch books.

How do you reach potential readers/customers?

We use social media but most of our customers are people who are local to the area.

How do you choose the books you stock?

I look for the books I would love to read, I choose books my own children have loved, books I see other people reading-so many ways!

Do you have a favourite publisher? Why?

I love Flying Eye books, they are always so beautiful.

What are you reading at the moment?

Where the Crawdad’s Sing

What do you get up to in a normal bookselling day?

Due to the pandemic, I don’t think I’ve even got to have a ‘normal bookselling day’ yet When we were open, I would spend some of my day looking at books I might like to stock, I would TRY to read some of the stock we already had, take photos for social media…And talking with customers about what they wanted, particularly as it was getting close to Christmas. In lockdown, I’ve had to juggle the work in the shop with home-schooling, so have really focused on processing the orders we have had and getting ready to re-open.

What is the nicest thing a customer has ever said to you?

When we were open, so many people said how happy they were that we had opened, and every time I hear it just makes me so happy! Also whenever people compliment the selection of books we have; because I personally chose them all that always feels like a very personal compliment.


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The Aldeburgh Bookshop, Aldeburgh


Based in the pretty Suffolk coastal town of Aldeburgh, the bookshop is 72 years old and for the last 21 years has been run by Mary and John who started the Aldeburgh Festival once settled in. Check out the tote bag map!

The Aldeburgh Bookshop
42 High Street
Aldeburgh
IP15 5AB
Telephone: 01728 452389
Mobile: 07855 680911
Email: johnandmary@aldeburghbookshop.co.uk

Website: www.aldeburghbookshop.co.uk
Twitter: @aldebooks
Instagram: @aldeburghbookshop
Facebook: Aldeburgh Bookshop

In their own words

How did you come up with the name of your bookshop?

The shop is going to be 72 years old this year. Founded in 1949.

Mary and John James

Mary and John James

Who are you? Owns the bookshop? Bit of a bio and pics, please

We are the current owners, we bought the shop in 2000. Husband and wife team, John and Mary James, John was a chartered surveyor in commercial property. Mary worked for many years as an antiquarian bookdealer for the prestigious firm of Bernard Quaritch Ltd in London

Why a bookshop? What made you want to get into bookselling?

Who could resist the opportunity to run a bookshop in a beautiful seaside town. It meant we could bring up our family in the country. We haven’t regretted it for a minute in the last 21 years

General background/history of the shop please

So, as I said, the shop was founded in 1949. Several of the previous retired owners lived in Aldeburgh when we first arrived so we enjoyed hearing about their very different experiences of running a bookshop. One couple didn’t have any bookshelves and the books were piled high. If you wanted a book from the bottom of the pile, you risked toppling the whole lot.

We installed a stock control system—first a notebook by the till, and then eventually the full Bertline system. I remember one of our customers saying how worried they were about our digital system and the beep of the scanner would ruin the atmosphere.

In 2006 we won the Nibbie for Best Independent Bookshop, which was a huge honour.

In 2001 we started the Aldeburgh Literary Festival which usually takes place on the first weekend of March. We managed to stage it last year. This year we have had to postpone it and are considering doing it in September. This will be our 20th Festival and we have had an outstanding array of speakers including Two Nobel Literature Prize Winners.

We have a Bookshop Book Club which meets once a month, currently on Zoom. We’ve been going about 7 years now.

Do you stock a variety of genres or do you specialise?

We have a general stock—with an emphasis on fiction, biography and history which are our favourite genres. We do have a specialised music section as Aldeburgh was home to Benjamin Britten

Do you mainly sell new or second-hand books?

All new. Hardly any second hand. Although we do help customers source second hand titles.

What makes your bookshop special?

Our selection. Our enthusiasm. Our recommendations. Our customers. All our staff are keen readers.

What’s the hardest thing about being a bookseller?

Not having enough time to read all the books.

What’s the best thing about being a bookseller?

Having to read books as part of our job and the opportunities to discuss those books with our customers

What’s the most surprising thing about being a bookseller?

That there’s always some new book or topic—publications are often surprising.

What are the goals for your bookshop?

To maintain our very high standards. We feel that every book in the shop is there for a reason.

Do you think owning a bookshop has changed your life? How?

We were in our late 30s when we bought the shop and we both feel that it has enriched our lives.

What little-known book do you think is underrated?

Both John and I have books we love and press on our customers. John’s is the Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklos Banffy. Mine is This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson.

What well-known book do you think is overrated?

I don’t want to answer that question in case the author comes on holiday to Aldeburgh …

What is your preferred reading genre?

For me, fiction and biography. I was a judge of the Biography section of the Whitbread (now Costa) several years ago and that was a terrific undertaking. John reads more history and non-fiction.

Describe your store in three words.

Full, interesting, friendly

What book is your greatest treasure? Why?

Our illustrated thank you letter from Posy Simmonds after attending our Literary Festival

What was your favourite childhood book? Why?

Mine was The Once and Future King by T. H. White
John’s was Gerald Durrell My Family and Other Animals and Just William

Michael Frayn

Michael Frayn

If you could invite any author for a book signing at your shop, who would you choose?

We are fortunate in being able to invite many of our literary heroes to our Literary Festival—so we’ve had Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes, Margaret Drabble, Harold Pinter, Alan Bennett, Peter Shaffer. We have been so lucky.

Where do you think the biggest change in book publishing will come from?

Hard to say, but we did predict that the rise of E-readers, Kindles and Kobus would be limited. I also think there is so much goodwill and love for bookshops and that the death of the High Street is not on the cards

How do you reach potential readers/customers?

As well as footfall, we make quite extensive use of email newsletters, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

How do you choose the books you stock?
If it looks interesting, whether it’s the new Ishiguro, a history of table manners (Scoff by Pen Vogler) or a book on dry stone walls.

Do you have a favourite publisher? Why?

We loved Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession so a big shout out for Bluemoose Books

Name three books on your TBR.

The new Katherine Heiny (we loved Standard Deviation), Fall by John Preston about Robert Maxwell, and I am intrigued by the novel Brood by Jacki Polzin

What are you reading at the moment?

Just finished Weather and Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offil

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from selling books?

There’s a book for everyone

What music, if any, do you play in your shop? Why?

We don’t

What is the best book-related gift you’ve ever received?

The Faber life-size cardboard cut out cow to promote the Secret Life of Cows has been very useful and we’ve even incorporated it into your website logo. For no particular reason.

What is the weirdest thing a customer has ever asked for?

One Saturday afternoon we were rung by a customer wanting us to look up the answer to their crossword clue in the reference section. That was before widespread use of Google.

What do you get up to in a normal bookselling day?

Nothing is normal at the moment with Lockdown still in place, but a day is usually a mixture of helping customers, recommending books, wrapping parcels, ordering books with reps and unpacking lots and lots of boxes.

What is the nicest thing a customer has ever said to you?

A customer once told us they heard some children skipping down the street in a nearby town shouting out the things they loved and one called out ’The Aldeburgh Bookshop’

One of our special features is our range of beautiful canvas tote bags. Customers take or send the bags all over the world and we mark on a world map where the bags have gone to

Fab Four with Aldeburgh Bookshop Bag

Fab Four with Aldeburgh Bookshop Bag


If you want to help and support this blog and my other projects (Indie Publishers and Big Bearded Bookseller) you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

You can always email me on contact@bigbeardedbookseller.com with any suggestions.