When is a bookshop not a bookshop? Don’t worry, this isn’t a joke, although some aspects of the following have made myself and Mr Frog laugh. Between laughing and crying, I’ll take laughing. Mostly. With a smattering of swearing thrown in for good measure.
When we opened, we had a starry eyed (some may say naive) dream, that Chicken and Frog would be a children’s bookshop. Pure and simple. It soon became apparent that if we wanted to feed and clothe our kids on a regular basis, that we would need to bolt on the tuition centre. ‘That’s fine,’ we said. ‘They compliment each other perfectly, and we are still a bookshop first, tuition centre second.’
Brentwood is a funny place. Not always funny ha-ha…it’s our home town and we love it, but despite it being quite an affluent area, books do not necessarily feature highly on the agenda. We still get asked, frequently, if we can offer a discount on multiple purchases, or match the on-line giants/supermarkets*. I find this attitude bizarre. Would you purchase two jumpers from a high street clothes store and ask for a discount? I sincerely hope not. The short answer is, no, we can’t match or beat deep discounts. If we did, we would be selling books at a loss. Now, I’m no maths genius, but even I can figure out that this would be a mistake. As an aside, deep discounting books, or any product, is a very unhealthy way in which to grow an economy. No-body wins, apart from huge corporations. It’s a problem, but not one that I foresee being solved.
Back to the matter in hand. We have been pootling along, doing okay. Yes, there have been tumbleweed days, that have turned into weeks at times, but generally speaking, business has been on the up. The Radford clan have been fed, watered and clothed. Bills have been paid and we’re getting by. No fancy holidays for us, but that was always the pay-off when we turned away from our ‘proper’ jobs, to chase the dream. And, even though some of this post may sound negative, I want to clarify that we love what we do. We are surrounded by books, authors, readers etc every day. We get to work together (yes, we quite like each other, which is a plus) and we feel a part of the community. We are very lucky.
And then. Well then, your break clause passes you by and despite chasing your landlords for a couple of months, you don’t find out until it’s way too late to do anything about it, that your rent is going to increase by just shy of 50%. After haggling. Yes, dear reader, they wanted more. And, even though you’ve been doing the chasing, you owe a couple of months in arrears of the new rental rate. Fun times, right? This is one of those hilarious comedy breaks, where the booksellers roar with laughter for days. No, wait, it was the aforementioned crying and swearing. Sorry, I get easily confused these days.
There were options available:
- Keep on going, hoping that people buy lots and lots and lots more books than ever before.
- Cry and swear. We’ve covered this I know, but it’s a recurring activity.
- Close the bookshop and do something else in the space. After all, we’re liable for the rent.
- Cry and swear (see No. 2).
- Think of something that will compliment what we already do.
We had a think and quite a lot of chocolate. It’s at times such as these that I’m thankful that I don’t drink. Option 1, although ideal, is a non-option. Options 2 and 4 have been covered, so let’s move on. Our skill sets are kind of limited to be honest, so neither of us could think of anything sensible to do with the space. Which leaves option 5. After various ideas, none of which were sensible and few of which are printable, we came up with plan.
A Cafe Corner is going to be installed. Sadly, our lovely Elmer sofa will need to go. Boo-hoo, but there will be cake and caffeine, so it’s not all bad. We are determined that Chicken and Frog will remain, primarily a children’s bookshop. It’s what we know and are passionate about. We will be closed on the 9th and 10th April, to refurb, before opening for business as usual (plus cake). All of our regular weekly sessions, plus tuition and glorious books, will be very firmly in place. Pop in to say hello!
*Delete as appropriate, or feel free to add to the list.