The first entry in our Bookshop Spotlight series is the West End treasure trove that is Thistle Books! Located (hidden) on a small lane just off Otago Street, Thistle Books is owned and run by Robert Dibble and is packed to the rafters with literary delights, an impressive selection of sheet music and a well-stocked history section with a particularly Scottish flavour.
Discovered only recently after a jaunt to the nearby Tchai Ovna, I was charmed by the shop’s cosy atmosphere and excellent variety. It eschews the sort of Black Books-esque disarray and mania that most second-hand bookshops seem to thrive on – indeed, though bursting at the seams, there’s (joy) actual floor space and some semblance of order. Which appeals to strange folk like myself, who consider a Saturday spent hoovering a very satisfying day indeed.
I had a chat with Robert about the shop, its origins and future – his answers, though pragmatic, capture his passion for books and bookselling:
Tell us a little about Thistle Books.
I was a teacher for 30 years. I enjoyed teaching very much, but I didn’t fancy continuing to retirement age – teaching needs a lot of energy, [it’s] not an old man’s job. I’ve always been a reader, and latterly had become a bit of a collector – mainly Scottish writers – so the idea of running a second-hand bookshop seemed a good idea. When I was offered an early retirement package it seemed like a good opportunity, [and] although it was clearly a bit of a gamble, my wife agreed it was worth taking.
The premises are far from ideal. The shop is in a courtyard, below a cafe, with only a small sign to direct customers down the lane into the courtyard. But it was relatively cheap to rent, and I didn’t want to risk too much in case it was a flop. I opened in January 1998 and am still operating.
The challenges are getting more customers. The biggest reward is when you turn up a book someone’s been looking for for years!
The bricks and mortar bookshop is increasingly under threat from online giants such as Amazon. What do you think the future holds for book lovers and book sellers?