One of the advantages of moving to a small market town is that suddenly everything is within reach. I no longer have a twenty minute drive to the nearest shops to buy a week’s supply of groceries, accompanied by the constant worry that when I get there they may be no parking. Instead I simply take the ten minute stroll into town each morning and pick up whatever I need for the day. If it happens to be a Tuesday, Friday or Saturday even better, the fruit and vegetables will come courtesy of the local farmers’ market.
If I don’t feel like going straight home then there are four or five local cafés where I can stop off for refreshments and wile away a spare half hour with a good book. Importantly, given the (for me) too hot weather we are having at the moment, most of them have shady outside nooks where it is possible to catch whatever breeze is available.
The arts centre, where I have access to music, cinema and occasional theatre, including the live streaming from the National Theatre and the RSC, is even closer – less than five minutes from door to door. I’ve already been to see An American in Paris and An Ideal Husband and have tickets booked for half a dozen more event over the next few months. When the new chamber concert season starts in the Autumn I shall be signing up for that as well.
What I don’t have is a bookshop – independent or otherwise.
There used to be an independent bookshop in the town many years ago. It was taken over by Waterstones, but that closed when they cut back the number of stores they felt they could sustain in the face of on-line competition. This left just an excellent Oxfam bookshop. My experience of these is that they are either rather tatty places or seriously good. This was one of the latter. However, last December the local rates went up to such an extent that it was forced to close as well, so now we struggle on with just a W H Smith as a source of reading material.
The existence of a local bookshop says something about a place, I think. Or am I being too nostalgic? I suspect that in even the best read communities bookshops would struggle to maintain a steady customer flow in the face of so much competition for readers’ attention. But a good independent bookshop supports so much more than the buying needs of their clientele. I know of several who are the centre of half a dozen local reading groups and the one here was responsible for starting a regular programme of visiting speakers long before the literary festival scene took off. It was the hub of literary life. There are a couple of empty properties along the High Street and each time I pass them I think, ‘if only’, but I suspect I am hoping for too much.