What makes a great independent bookshop?

3 Mins read

How one Peckham Rye shop is making literature accessible and enjoyable for all.

There’s not much you can’t find on Peckham Rye, from miscellaneous home supplies, to fresh fish and a cheap pint, it’s a place where you if you look hard enough, you will struggle to leave empty handed.

This rule also applies to ‘Books’, an unpretentious and unapologetically charming treasure trove of literature situated just a five minute walk from Peckham Rye station on Maxted Road.

Closely stacked books on bookshelf
Books are stacked tightly within the shop

It’s plethora of second hand books makes an afternoon of casual browsing pass by in what feels like 10 minutes. The premise of the shop is simple and effective, a sense of curation is left at the door leaving everything seem unorganised yet intentional. Whether you are a seasoned reader or new to turning the pages, this shop makes literature accessible for all.

It’s a readers dream, with a mix of newly printed matter and second hand books all at a reasonable price. Owned and run by Peter, Books holds a somewhat mobile history until taking up permanent residence on Maxted Road, settling beside a printing shop which is quite fitting.

“I started in 2016, it was originally a market stall in Camberwell Road before moving to the alleyway on Rye Lane and now we’re here, but I’ve been doing stuff with zines since 2014,” Peter told us

The shop starts on the street outside, with a large case of books – entirely at random with a large ‘for free’ sign above. Although the books within are priced and unfortunately not for free, you can pick up a few books for the same price as a coffee and doughnut from one of the many artisan bakeries appearing within the area.

“This isn’t supposed to be a place where you know what you want beforehand. I want people to come in and see what’s here, and if its interesting get it,” Peter admitted.

On choosing what literature makes it to shelves, Peter’s selection process is personal and simple: “When I first started I didn’t think it would end up like this, it was mainly my own stuff and things that my friends had, so it really grew from my own interests and it’s still kind of like that.”

Books are overflowing outside with 'for free' sign
The shop fills up as books overflow onto the street

“I’ll only buy stuff thats worthwhile or you can’t find anywhere. If you could get it somewhere else then what’s the point in me having it,” Peter said.

Busy corner shows many different publications
A busy corner displays many books and publications

The talk of gentrification around Peckham and surrounding areas has been an emerging topic in recent years, with businesses such as a Trinidadian jewellery shop forced to close it doors as a new Sainsbury’s appears.

Increased footfall is undeniably good for a businesses such as bookshops, but Peter’s instagram account @Bookspeckham has played a crucial role in the business’s success.

“I do Instagram only, if I couldn’t I wouldn’t. But with the account sitting at over 10k followers you really notice the difference when I post new stuff and people come asking for it. It would be really nice to just sit here and open but people need a reminder online sometimes. It also helps people find out about the shop so I can stock their zines,” Peter explains.

Complimenting the books are independent magazines and zines from many local publishers and individuals. With the distributers setting their own prices and the personal exchange between Peter and the owners, there is a real sense of community present within the shelves as titles such as Readme, Freedom and Talker on display.

“I get about three to four new things every week and the newer stuff works it’s way down, I don’t choose the prices on this but I keep most of It under a tenner.”

picture shows inside of book shop
Light shines through window onto a multitude of books

Journalism’s transition to online outputs can be one that requires adaption from sellers to find success in turbulent times, but Peter’s stock speaks for itself.

books are stacked in a bookshelf on the door
Books decorate the walls and doors

“The rise of indie mags is more specialist and niche, because that’s how It can survive. I think there’s an influx in self-publishing as a response to this. If you’re taking the time and consideration to make something in print it’s a completely different thing to online,” Peter told us.

“With print you can take the time to engage with it, read a bit and come back, give it to people and share it around, it has this longevity.”

Although nice to have, profit is a byproduct at Books. As an extension and amalgamation of Peter’s interests and those around him, it’s journey to today is truly remarkable.

He told The Face magazine: “It doesn’t make enough to support me, but it’s self-sustaining and that’s as much as I can ask.”

With the industry of print magazines a somewhat rocky one, places like Books are a testament to the love that people have for them.

“I think zines are having a resurgence so it’s the best time to get started. And even if the money isn’t great, when people realise this they can make what they want anyways.”

And print made from a passion is far more likely to survive the passage of time.

All images by Isla Theobold.

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