March 5, 2015

Manchester gets two new independent bookshops


Two bookshops and a sense of humour. Image from the Northern Quarter via Flickr

Two bookshops and a sense of humour. Image from the Northern Quarter via Flickr

For a long time, Manchester’s Northern Quarter has been a haven for independent businesses. Tucked away behind the city’s busy, messy central square, Piccadilly Gardens, (which is flanked by a gigantic Primark and chain restaurants and cafes) the area is a success story in how even city centres can find space for independent offerings and small businesses.

I grew up in Greater Manchester which means I grew up thinking that all major cities outside of London had whole areas dedicated to cheap cafes, records shops, vintage emporiums and student bars that hosted intimate concerts with American indie bands (what can I say, it was the mid-2000s and We Are Scientists seemed pretty great at the time.)

I left Manchester and realised this was not the case. There were whole parts of the country that could only offer a Costa Coffee that no one wanted, didn’t allow for local people to set up creative businesses, did not remember having a record store, and the people who lived there had never heard of We Are Scientists (the latter of which I came to see was no bad thing).

But sometimes these same places had good bookshops. The Northern Quarter did not have any independent bookshops, and it had always bothered me. Not just because I thought the area could go a notch higher in its cultural capital offering, but because it made good business sense. The streets are teeming with students, artists, musicians, and young professionals with a disposable income higher than their London counterparts. The city is home to one of the best universities in the country, and its Creative Writing course is taught by Jeanette Winterson and M.J. Hyland.

It seems I wasn’t the only one unsatisfied by this. As the Manchester blog Manchizzle reports, this spring the Northern Quarter will be getting not one but two independent bookshops. As Kate Feld puts it on the blog, “Weird, huh? We haven’t had one since forever, and now, suddenly, we’re getting two.” Feld also provides some tantalising insight into the two new shops, Chapter One Books and Aspidistra Books.

Chapter One Books will feature:

Nearly 5,000 feet of bookstore for people of all ages, including a cafe and a 50-capacity event space that the owners hope will be used for book launches and readings as well as more offbeat live lit shenangigans. Also, maybe some typewriters.

While over at Aspidistra Books:

As the Orwell connection suggests this will be a shop with a political and literary bent, and according to [owner Joseph] Parkinson, a strong interest in LGBT literature. Parkinson also likes the idea of hosting readings alongside casual literary-themed events like ‘speed dating with Hemingway’ {insert joke about Hemingway’s love life here.}

Finally, two independent bookshops with different offerings, and which already have clever ideas for how to bring in customers. But as Feld writes on her blog:

Independent bookstores are great, aren’t they? We definitely want some around. You know how we get to keep these, and maybe get some more? By actually buying books from them. That’s how.


Zeljka Marosevic is the managing director of Melville House UK.