For the second in our series on the nations' shopkeepers, we meet bookstore proprietor, Jenny McCann as she takes grapples the behemoths with carefully curated children's books and way more besides...
OUTSIDELEFT: Bear Bookshop... Why here, why now? Have you always wanted to run a book store... Are you in some way in the noble and direct line from Granger, from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 - protecting the stories, protecting the very idea of books as stories, books as objects, for future generations…
JENNY McCANN, BEAR BOOKSHOP: I love that idea! And I think children’s books, especially for younger children will always be popular-there’s so much a book can offer that a screen cannot-pop ups, flaps, overlaid pages, we even have a scratch and sniff book for babies! And as our lives become increasingly digital, I think many people are keen to find a way to escape from that, particularly as screen time is so often associated with work/school. Turning everything off to read a book is a great way of escaping from the pressures that a digital life can bring. And developing literacy skills is so important for children. Reading for pleasure is a stronger indicator of future success for children than anything else!
OL: I've heard you describe BB as a family bookstore. You certainly have one of the most considered and curated and very desirable arrays of children's and young adult books. People might miss that section for grown ups on the immediate left when they come in through the door though, do you sort of de-emphasize books for adults to keep the super positive vibe for children...
JM: Oh that wasn’t my intention - I just thought that it might be a nicer shopping experience for adults if their section was somewhat separate to the children’s books. There’s quite often parents and very little ones sitting on the steps reading, or children playing; I just wanted to make it less of an obstacle course for people who weren’t shopping for children’s books.
OL: Who are the best bookstore owners at the movies or in print? I love Hugh Grant in Notting Hill. I mean if it is on, I can't switch the film off and it always makes me cry at the end. Love the bookshop action in Serendipity... Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail. Not the guy from Netflix's You. Or, the best bookshops on TV...
JM: We love 'The Neverending Story’- I love that idea of walking into a bookshop and finding yourself in a whole new magical world!
OL: What's surprisingly popular in Bearwood?
JM: Baby books are my most popular, but to be honest that’s not a surprise. My own children are still young, so I was very aware of just how many young children there seem to be in and around Bearwood.
I was surprised - and delighted - by how many children still seek out the traditional myths and legends. We have some really beautiful collections in stock too, the favourites in our house are The Gamayun Tales, which are based on Russian folk tales.
OL: Is there much demand for poetry?
JM: Some, but not as much as I would like. I think a lot of people feel intimidated by poetry, or that it’s not for them (I have to confess I prefer prose too), but I think at times, a poem can be just perfect if you want to read but are very limited for time, or if you want to have something to consider, or to feel especially lyrical…there’s thousands of reasons to read poetry. My favourite time to read poetry is over breakfast; it’s such a lovely way to start the day.
OL: Do you stock books by local authors?
JM: Yes, I always wanted the shop to have a strong community identity, so I definitely try to keep as much in as possible that has been written by local authors. I stock a lot of independently published authors too- for a lot of people it’s a long held dream to write a book and I feel very privileged to be able to be a part of realising that for someone.
OL: Let's talk the pandemic. Just before the beginning, Bearwood was about to go boom and now, hmmmm, maybe it is feeling tired again. Areas perhaps with lower wealth overall took the hit badly I think, and may take longer, without help to reignite... Simply, how was it for you?
JM: I think I thought similar, which was one of the reasons I thought it would be a good idea to open a bookshop there. It’s got such a strong sense of community, I felt really confident that were would get local support and we have, it’s been amazing. Bearwood’s a really interesting area, there are so many different types of people living here, which is why I love it. It’s been tough with the pandemic, but from a business owning perspective, that’s all I’ve ever known. In some ways it has been harder since restrictions are lifted as it’s gotten so much busier - but that’s a good problem to have!
OL: Bear Books has hosted a several events, readings and all sorts in the store, can you talk about them? What you've done so far. Highlights. Is there anything that is coming up that you'd care to mention?
JM: I love having events I always wanted it to be a family destination as well as a shop, and to offer something beyond a purely commercial transaction. We’ve had authors, theatre groups, artists, photographers... all kinds of events running. One of the things I’m most excited about is a string quartet coming in to play Christmas music on the 18th of December! We are also having a space themed day on the 4th of December. In November, I am going to have a stall at the market in the city centre from the 17th-28th... And there’s a few more things that we are planning, so I would recommend that people keep an eye on our social media channels. Also, on Saturday the 13th of November, we are going to celebrate the shop’s first birthday - there will be cakes, balloons, presents etc. I’m very much looking forward to that.
OL: What about your best moment in the whole history of the store?
JM: That very first day when we opened our doors was amazing! It felt like all of Bearwood had come out to see the shop. And one of my customers gave me a old book of children’s stories which was lovely! But honestly, every day something will happen in the shop that will bring me joy-people telling me that they loved a book I recommended, or seeing children engaging with our activities…it really is the most amazing place to work!
OL: Bear books is a brilliant addition to the high street. Jenny, if you weren't a bookstore owner, what do you think you would do?
JM: Probably still English teaching - I would still want to be talking about books all day long!
Question Zero. Housekeeping...
Where can we find the Bear Bookshop online and offline. What are the URLs? Are you able to order books from books in print so that I can collect them from your store? How long does that take?
The bear bookshop can be found online at www.bearbookshop.co.uk.
We can order most books and they usually take up to a week to arrive-delivery day is Fridays!