In this guest blog Ross Bradshaw explains what winning Independent Bookshop of the Year means to him and his staff – and it’s more than having the carpet cleaned. Back in Issue 5 of Dawn of the Unread we featured Ross and his bookshop because we were thrilled someone had the balls to open a bookshop when print media was supposedly dead.
Just round the corner from Five Leaves Bookshop is a statue of Brian Clough, sometime manager of Nottingham Forest (described as the “bronze homophobe” by one of our customers). Among Clough’s famous quotes is “I wouldn’t say that I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one.” For one year only, Five Leaves can say something similar, without having to get involved in football. We are currently the Independent Bookshop of the Year. We won the accolade at the British Book Awards, the booktrade “Oscars”.
And it was like the Oscars. Red carpet, 1,000 important people in the industry, at the Grosvenor in London, posh frocks, dinner jackets… and us. Yes, we did wear DJs too, including Leah from the shop who also (according to some of the women present) won the dress award, because she wasn’t wearing one. Leah also did a traditional Oscars thing when she accepted the award on behalf of the shop by forgetting her lines – but only during the bit when she was saying who her fellow workers were. She should perhaps have learned our names over the last four years she has worked here.
What did we win it for? Well, perhaps not for our setting, in a previously forgotten jitty near Primark or for our vast selection of books on military history (we don’t have any) or our lack of political bias. We are biased. But the judges liked that our stock is carefully curated (kill me, I used that word), that we engage with lots of different communities in the events we run (88 last year, or 92 depending on which member of staff you ask) and the projects we run. They liked that two of our former staff published important books last year. And they liked that we were organising/initiating and funding Feminist Book Fortnight nationally. That’s just happened, involving fifty bookshops, a couple of galleries and two or three other organisations. And they liked that we had made a radical, independent bookshop economic, and diverse in our staff, our stock, our programme of events.
Diversity is the big thing in the trade at the moment – trying to change the profile of the staff in the industry, trying to change the profile of the books that are sold/published. There’s a long way to go, but a week after our award our trade association launched a fund to help bookshops work on diversity in their programming and in every way they can. The Booksellers Association has put our money where their mouth is and we are pleased about that.
What has the award meant? Well, there was a financial prize. Have you noticed that we have had a refit? That’s where most of the money went. We even had the carpet cleaned, so please take your shoes off before coming in from now on. But it meant a lot to our customers. There wasn’t a popular vote, but customers of the shortlisted bookshops were invited to say why they shopped with us all. Names were redacted by the BA but they sent out a selection of the comments. We blushed. And we picked up new customers – thank you East Midlands Today for reaching some people we’d not managed to reach in four and a half years.
So, not long until our fifth birthday. On our birthday weekend we started giving people a discount – 1% a year. A daft joke, but nobody refused their 1, 2, 3, 4% discounts so far and they probably won’t at 5% around November 9th (our actual birthday). But it looks like we are in for a reasonably long hall, which is worrying as Hatchards in London opened in 1797. If they’d done our daft joke they’d have been paying people to take books away for over a hundred years.
Five Leaves Bookshop, 14a Long Row, Nottingham, NG1 2DH
Tel: 0115 8373097 Open 10-5.30 Monday-Saturday, 12-4 Sundays
- Five Leaves wins Bookshop of the Year (radicalbooksellers.co.uk)
- Five Leaves Events (fiveleavesbookshop.co.uk)
- Regional winners (thebookseller.com)
- First Radical Bookshop to win Indie Prize (morningstaronline.co.uk)
- Ross on Why? (dawnoftheunread.com)
- Byron Clough issue (dawnoftheunread.com)
Dawn of the Unread is a graphic novel celebrating Nottingham’s literary history. It was created to support libraries and bookshops. It began life online and won the Teaching Excellence Award at the Guardian Education Awards in 2015 and has since been published by Spokesman Books (2017). All profits go towards UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature.