Jaine Blackman finds out how one shop is thriving in a challenging market

Service and advice have been the key to survival for bookshop owner Rachel Phipps.

That and the massive love for literature which prompted her to open a business as she approached her 50th birthday.

As Independent Booksellers Week is celebrated, Rachel admits that it’s not an easy industry to be in but is remarkably upbeat.

“You just have to work 10 times as hard. You can’t be like the owner of Black Books [TV sitcom] and open your door and scowl in the corner,” she says cheerily.

“I opened the bookshop in May 2008. Luckily I didn’t know at the time that a few weeks later the recession would start.”

Apart from that there have been supermarkets and Amazon selling cheaply and the rise of ebooks to contend with.

“It is a very tough time to be in independent bookselling. But people still love independent bookshops, and sales of ebooks aren’t as high as Amazon would like you to believe,” says Rachel, 56, of Dean.

“We still play a huge part in bookselling – spreading books by word of mouth recommendation is very important.

“Although many shops have shut, those that remain open nearly always do far more than simply sell books. We are places where people can wander in and browse, where they can talk about things – books, sometimes, but not exclusively.”

She credits the support of local people for the success of The Woodstock Bookshop, which is located in a small – but packed – former electrician’s shop on Oxford Street.“It’s been fantastic. The very first day we had so many people coming in,” she says.

And the custom has continued. While we chat on a quiet Tuesday afternoon in the west Oxfordshire town, there’s a steady stream of customers, young and old, enquiring about maps or Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers, picking up ordered volumes and asking advice.

They are certainly loyal: one customer told her she moved to Woodstock because of the bookshop and, in a neat twist, another looks up books on Amazon and then gives the details to Rachel to order them.

Oxford Mail:

“We offer a fast ordering service – someone coming in to the shop in the afternoon can have their book by the next day,” she says.

And it’s far from the only service she offers.

“We stock a lot of children’s books [about a quarter of the shop’s stock and sales] because people buying books for children often want advice and prefer to look at the books before buying them,” she says.

“We source second-hand books for people. We offer advice and help and we get to know our customers, so we know what to recommend to them. We sell book tokens. We hold talks.”

The shop, which was on the regional shortlist for Independent Bookseller of the Year in 2008 and 2013, and listed in the recent Independent’s Top 50 UK Bookshops, is very involved with the community.

“We run monthly talks, sometimes in the shop but more often in Woodstock Methodist Church,” says Rachel.

“We have a shop book group and I run two bookclubs in Woodstock Primary School and arrange author visits to schools.”

Far from the image of a book seller being a solitary soul sitting among dusty tomes, Rachel is often out and about, thanks to the support of three “fantastic” part-time staff.

“I visit many of the local schools on World Book Day to talk about books and reading and give them the opportunity of spending their vouchers.

“I have organised readings and events for children in the museum in Woodstock and book launches for local authors and, like many bookshops around the country, I sell tickets on behalf of local organisations and concerts,” says Rachel.

“I liaise with the people who run Wootton Village Hall talks, suggesting speakers for them and helping promote the talks, and I ran a series of talks in the White Horse Barn at Stonesfield last winter.”

And last, but certainly not least, the bookshop started Woodstock Poetry Festival.

“This November will be our third; it’s being opened by Carol Ann Duffy [Britain’s poet laureate] and will close with readings by local poets in The Woodstock Arms.”

Not bad going for a small independent... and something you can’t get off Amazon.

For more details about the shop and events see woodstockbookshop.co.uk or call 01993 812760