Life throws up some extraordinary coincidences sometimes. Years after we opened the shop, my daughter married the son of the man who ran the shop before me. I then discovered that both shops that were empty had been branches of Bowes & Bowes. One (ours) had been a Science bookshop and the other, a Modern Languages bookshop. Both were closed down because they were losing money. Had we known this at the time we might well have not taken the shop. How was it then that our shop flourished? The answer was simple. We sold not new books as the others had done but old and antiquarian books that were hard to find anywhere else. We had an added piece of luck. When the shop was emptied, all the fitted shelves were left in. They stood there waiting to be filled. That saved us a lot of money and work.
These were the first two pieces of luck. There were three more.
We desperately needed to find a house to live in as soon as possible so that we had somewhere to go home to at night whilst we were getting the shop ready. We were very lucky to find a house in the pleasant area of Storeys Way, so close that we could walk to and fro to the shop. The owner of the house had been cared for by a housekeeper for a long time before he died. He had left it to his son with the proviso that she be allowed to live there until she found somewhere else to go. The housekeeper’s work was to look after the new tenants. That was us.
She was a gem. She did everything around the house, shopping, cleaning, cooking and washing. She was near retirement age but was very energetic and a nice person. That was exactly what I needed for our first year in business. We signed for a one year stay in the hope that we would have earned enough to put down a deposit for a permanent home. We had to get rid of quite a lot of our furniture but we kept the best and stored it in the garage.
Another piece of luck was my bookseller friend Derek Gibbons, who couldn’t keep away from the shop. Once all the books had been collected from the garages in which they had been stored and the best of the Bedford shop, we had piles of books all over the floor. Quentin and I could not price them all alone.
Derek came in every day and he worked like a Trojan. He was astounded that I should have taken on a shop in such a prominent position. He was the last one to take any risks but he was a first-class bookseller with a lot of knowledge. It was a mammoth task, not only to price the books but to decide where the books had to go, upstairs and down. I also had a small collection of old maps and prints. They had to be framed, priced and hung on the walls. We also had the front of the shop painted and my name on its sign over the window. Passers-by were very interested in what we were doing and continually asked when we were opening.
Finally Bob did all the work of emptying the contents of both our house and our shop in Bedford. Robin was staying in Bedford where his work was. He had a small bed-sit for weekdays and spent the week-ends with us in a room of his own. He didn’t want to be left in Bedford but his job was there. This arrangement helped him to ease gradually from his desire to stay with us all the time. Quentin’s wife-to-be remained in Bedford. He stayed with us during the week and went back to her at the week-ends.
By the time we were finished we were exhausted but triumphant.
The day itself was incredible. It justified my thoughts that if we were to do well we would have to be in the very best situation. When we opened there was a queue that reached from our door along the length of Trinity Street to the Round Church. Both upstairs and downstairs were packed. We were serving all day long and had sold so many books that we were very glad we had more stashed away to replace them. All four of us, myself, Quentin, Bob and Derek were busy all day and every minute.
Our kind housekeeper, at home with Kate, had a tasty dinner ready for us. What happened that day was even greater than what we had hoped for. It wasn’t long before Quentin and I had to go out in the car to find as many books as we could, in addition to those that were offered to us by our customers.