Wigtown bookshop which doubles as a holiday home a hit

Wigtown has had official 'book town' status since 1998.
Wigtown has had official 'book town' status since 1998.
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A “holiday bookshop” in a Scottish town which gives holidaymakers the chance to run the shop for a two week stint is booked solid until 2020 and has sparked plans for copycat versions in Asia.

The Open Book in Scotland’s “book town” of Wigtown in Dumfries and Galloway, was launched by American Jessica Fox four years ago and is marketed through AirBnB.

Paying guests have the chance to live in a flat above the shop and run the bookshop themselves for two week stints, which has proved popular with guests around the world.

Ms Fox was working as a storyteller for space agency NASA in California nine years ago when she had a dream “to work in a Scottish bookshop by the sea”.

She subsequently moved to live above The Bookshop owned by Shaun Bythell - and later acquired another bookshop in the town, which she called the Open Book and began to rent it out to those looking for a working holiday for £36 a night.

She said: “It sounds like a romantic comedy, but I kept dreaming of working in a bookshop by the sea. I could see it as clear as day – right down to the rain outside.

“Wigtown is an amazing, unique place. It has a population of only 900 but it has 16 bookshops and they welcome people from around the world with open arms. I thought, ‘I’m sure I’m not the only crazy American out there who’d love to run a bookshop’ and that’s how The Open Book was born. People book through Airbnb and we’ve been overwhelmed by its success.”

The property’s AirBnB listing shows that bar a handful of one-off days, the bookshop has reservations until September 2020. Volunteers help the temporary “managers”, who are allowed to organise their own events and readings, as well as redesigning window displays, to run the shop.

She has recently been contacted by companies in China and South Korea who are formulating plans to create "book towns" like Wigtown in their home countries and have shown an interest in the Open Book model.

She said: "They are looking at how a book town works and what they can do in China and South Korea."

One guest who stayed earlier this year wrote in a review: “Well worth the wait! Such a great opportunity to run a bookshop for a week - and stay in a fabulous place. Everyone was v friendly and welcoming. We would stay again - if it wasn’t completely booked for the next three years!”

A laptop and WiFi are provided for guests, as well as bicycles for those looking to explore the local countryside while the shop is quiet.

Ms Fox is to speak at InnovateLiterature, part of the Wigtown Book Festival, now Scotland’s second-biggest literary event, to tell the story of her shop. The festival was first held in Wigtown – which has a population of less than 1,000 – in 1999, the year after it was officially ­recognised as a book town, and following a campaign to secure the designation, which was largely based on the model of Hay-on-Wye, in Wales.

Read more: Three independent Scottish bookstore owners tell their shop’s story