Friday 23 May 2014

Any bookshop is better than none

This week I'm writing about somewhere that may not sit too well with everyone, but as I've said many times: my interest is in bookshops, so long as the sale is face-to-face I'm happy.

Which means it's about time I write about what's possibly the elephant in the bookshop blog room: Waterstones.

Because while I'm sure we'd all like to only ever shop in our own local, independent bookshop (and grocer, and butcher, and haberdasher, etc), that's simply not always possible in the world we live in.

And so I turn to what has for a long time been my only local new bookshop, Waterstone's Fremlin Walk, in Maidstone, Kent. (There's now also an independent bookshop in the town, but that's another story).

I've chosen this particular branch partly because it's as good as any, and partly because I've had the privilege of chatting to the booksellers on any number of occasions and therefore come to realise that just because they work for a chain store doesn't mean they care any less about the books. I've regularly enjoyed bookish conversations here and one fraught Christmas I even made the most of almost an hour of help as staff found me fiction based around the Second World War; stories suitable for an eight-year-old with a much higher reading age; and, naturally, a couple of recommendations for my own enjoyment.

But what of the bookshop itself? Found in the town centre, it's a busy place of calm among the bustle of frantic clothes shoppers. Spread across two floors, this particular branch has one of the most varied and well-stocked new science fiction sections to compete with any good secondhand bookshop, and for more general readers the recently refurbished fiction area is pretty extensive. There's also a large Costa cafe, which is an easy place to spend several hours relaxing with a book, coffee and cake.

In fact, on the occasion of this particular visit I confess I was only popping in for a coffee with my book, but even so I was still able to enjoy the feel of the shop and take time to admire the many excellent recommendations on my way in - that first table has always been my downfall!

But once again, why am I devoting a page of the blog to a high street chain?

The answer is simple: Because it's a bookshop.

Sure in an ideal world we'd all love to buy from the aforementioned indie, and I will still always prioritise them if given the choice. But when there are no indies in your town which would you prefer - a shop full of books, interesting customers and enthusiastic booksellers, or a lonely computer screen with an online interface?

Waterstone's Fremlin Walk
24 Fremlin Walk, Maidstone, ME14 1QP
Tel: 01622 682042

*Pictured are a small selection of my purchases from Waterstones over the years when this bookshop was my local.


  1. A bookshop is a bookshop no matter whether it is a chain or independent. I can spend hours in London's Piccadilly Waterstones when I'm down there!

    I've spotted Child 44 in your pile of books there. I hope you enjoy it, it's the start of a great trilogy.

    1. I couldn't agree more Nikki-ann!

      I've not been to that Waterstones yet but it's on the list of places to explore.

      I also hadn't realised Child 44 is part of a trilogy, I'll have to look the other two books up...

  2. And James Daunt is now in charge at Waterstones, so you could argue it is just a really big independent! We are lucky to have 2 or 3 really good indies in our city and I am still known to frequent Waterstones. The one in Bath is actually pretty good and if you don't have an indie I think you would be lucky if you had a Waterstones. Never apologise for going into a bookshop!

    1. Thanks Susanne, it's great to see these comments because they back up what I've always said, but I know there are lots of views on the subject of chains so I wanted to try to be sympathetic while putting across my own opinion.

  3. I'm really enjoying my discovery of your blog! I would ALWAYS rather go into an actual bookshop regardless of whether it be a chain, indie or second hand. Like you, I will always prioritise an indie over a chain, but when several of my blogger friends and I met up in Leeds at the end of last year, did we skip out on the 3 floor Waterstone's (also with a lovely relaxing Costa in the middle of it)? No way!

    I go into the big one in Canterbury often with my 19 month old while waiting to pick up his dad from work and he looks at books and Gruffalo stuffed toys and plays with the spinning tops they have in there, and I chat to the lovely lady who runs the childrens' department about babies and books and various other things and it's brilliant. They're also one of the few places where kids never get shushed, which I like!

    1. I'm so pleased to see you're enjoying the blog! Thank you. I'm yet to visit Canterbury (I've only been to the city a handful of times since moving to the county) but will make a point of visiting what sounds like a wonderful children's department.


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