Three independent Scottish bookstore owners tell their shop’s story

Leakey's Bookshop in Inverness
Leakey's Bookshop in Inverness
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ONLINE stores and high street chains have put the squeeze on independent bookshops over the years, but a select few are still thriving in Scotland thanks to their unique selections and one-of-a-kind features. Matthew Dunne-Miles learns what makes three of these places tick

The Ceilidh Place, Ullapool

Evolving from a single bookshelf in the front lobby back in 1980, The Ceilidh Place’s bookshop has become one of this boutique Ullapool hotel’s most eye-catching and celebrated features. The Ceilidh Place has been running as a hotel and accommodation spot in the Highland town for over four decades, complete with a bar, art gallery, cafe and cosy double rooms. The bookshop on the ground floor is stocked full of children’s literature, history, poetry, travel writing and fiction. As a proudly Scottish establishment, there is also a strong emphasis on literature and poetry from across the country.

“It was set up by the actor Robert Urquhart and his wife Jean in 1970, as a place which reflected their shared passion for literature and the arts,” explains the bookshop manager, Avril Moyes.

“We have many regular customers – some local or from other parts of the region – and others from further afield who holiday here on a regular basis. They often tell us that they find books here that they could not find anywhere else.”

Moyes says the bookshop is also willing to deliver their stock further afield.

“Staff are experienced at searching for unusual titles and we are happy to supply books to anywhere in the world. In fact one of our oldest and best customers orders up his books from Canada.”

For those who find themselves at The Ceilidh Place, a warm log fire burns in the cafe bar during the winter months, and there’s an open balcony space perfect for enjoying a book in the summer.

12-14 W Argyle Street, Inverness, 01854 612103, www.theceilidhplace.com

The Open Book, Wigtown

Do you have what it takes to run your own bookstore? The Open Book in Wigtown gives their guests the chance to do exactly that. The small coastal site advertises for a new bookshop manager on a fortnightly basis, with guests booking to stay through accommodation site Airbnb and taking on the task of running their own store. As The Open Book’s temporary custodian, you’ll be stocking shelves, changing the shop layout and, of course, serving customers.

“I knew I couldn’t be the only one with desires to pack up everything and move into a life of running a bookshop by the sea in Scotland,” says American author and the bookshop’s co-owner, Jessica Fox, who travelled from Los Angeles to the Scottish coastal town almost a decade ago.

“Surely there was room for people to take a bookshop holiday: all the romance, fun and atmosphere without upheaving your whole life. Wigtown is always looking for ways to engage visitors with reading, literature and of course, bookshops, so The Open Book seemed like a natural fit.”

The residency project has been going on in ‘Scotland’s National Book Town’ for the last two years, which Fox explaining that the charm of the area itself helps in attracting those who wish to live the lifestyle “it’s an amazing location, with sea, walks, a distillery, shops and history right at their fingertips.

“Wigtown is that kind of place, where you can’t help but fall in love, feel at home and appreciate the richness of the community. In turn, the guests enrich the lives of the community too, so much so that many leave as friends.”

High Street, Wigtown, www.airbnb.com

Leakey’s Bookshop, Inverness

Leakey’s Bookshop is Scotland’s second largest secondhand bookstore and is set in the spectacular grounds of a Gaelic church dating back to 1793. The site boasts high ceilings, two floors teaming with secondhand books, and a working log fire crackling away in the centre. Owner Charles Leakey has run various second-hand shops in Inverness since 1979, and moved into the current building 22 years ago

“The building I’m in now is about the fourth shop I’ve had in Inverness. I got here about twenty two years ago. Before that, this building was a church,” explains Charles

“From the church, we moved the pews. We created space, opened it out and I put in shelving. Then, at a later stage, I put in a mezzanine floor made up of steel, then opened up the balcony which used to have pews on it. I also put in the fire which everybody comments on. After 22 winters, I know it very well.”

Concerning Leakey’s survival on the high street as other contemporaries have closed down, Leakey believes it’s all about selection.

“Bookshops have been closing left, right and centre over the last fifteen years. But not this one.

“It’s a large building and I could fill a building ten times this size with books that nobody wanted. It’s all a matter of selecting books that people like and want and that’s my job I suppose. That’s what I try to do.

“As the years go by, I hope that I’m getting better at it but I don’t know.”

As for whether the converted church site helps to attract customers, Leakey believes it has its advantages.

“Secondhand bookshops on the whole can be fairly small and crowded places. I’m used to hearing gasps of amazement from behind my desk when people come through the door. People do seem to like it. But it’s all a matter of getting the right books.”

Church St, Inverness, 01463 239947, https://www.facebook.com/LeakeysBookshop/