The first to visit, the last to post… for a little while, at least.
If you guys have been tracking, I announced this Book nerd adventure back in January and since then I’ve definitely been in and out of a lot of book sellers—and I’ve loved it. But in my haste to get everything else done for my travels and keeping you up to date on other things, I skipped the first store that actually got me started on this –now global—adventure: Hatchard’s in Piccadilly.
The Piccadilly store front’s claim to fame comes down to being the UK’s oldest book shop (established in 1797), but wandering inside, you would never know that this space was anywhere near that age.
Growing up in LA, the only bookstores I had really available to run around in were chains like Borders and Barnes & Nobles that were attached to malls—and even those numbers are dwindling. These major retailers housed their wares in open plan spaces where the only divisions of the room—except for floors—were the book cases breaking things down by genre. These were not interesting architectural places or mazes to lose yourself in, in a nod to Alice wandering the expanding world of wonderland; they were simply spaces you went to get the books you needed before continuing along with your shopping needs.
So, while I am now quite used to the world of creative book spaces and aesthetic draw of the booksellers I’ve looked at so far, walking into Hatchard’s was my first real experience of a bookstore as more than a building to buy a book or two.
I’d chosen this shop as my first for a few reasons: I was in need of books to read on the trains and such before heading out to France for reading week; it’s the oldest bookshop in the UK (!); I knew the general area and it wasn’t too far from where I live; and, finally, I had a class assignment where I had to go and observe a space and the way people interacted with it—a bookstore seemed like just the place to get everything I needed in one go.
Like I said, this was my first trip, so (after a few minutes of searching for the shop and getting turned around in the little streets surrounding it on the way) when I walked in and began to wander, I was pretty much floored.
This store is pretty much the opposite of open planned. Rather, each of the 5 floors (3 up from the ground floor and one below) is made up of rooms and passageways for customers to wander through.
And, boy, did I wander.
I found myself loving the feel of this store with its great central staircase and the quality it held, less like a maze (like Shakespeare and Co in Paris or the mammoth which is the Strand in New York) andmore like a labyrinth, where each room falls into a path which has a clear pattern to wander through.
It’s been a while since I visited the shop so you’ll have to excuse some of my lack of details, but one thing still stands out to me: there were a few areas that had chairs and even a couch where shoppers had set themselves up to work. Unlike most establishments where people congregate, this wasn’t a café setting one would see in any other bookshop. Rather these were small niches throughout the store where people were working on various project, none of which had anything to do with being in a bookshop. Again, coming from the dwindling market of Los Angeles, this was a completely foreign sight to behold.
But to wrap this up: Hatchard’s is a great space with a lovely and large range of books as well as an easy air which makes you understand wanting to sit down and stay for a while. Although—as my teacher felt compelled to remind—this is not a discount bookstore and, for where it’s located, you can definitely see why keeping the aesthetics at top marks would be so important.
Still, if you are in the area, this is a stop I’d recommend to you fellow bookies, there is an atmosphere, books, and some history in these walls—what else do you need?
This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.
ps. As I said, this’ll be the last book nerd post for a little while, but we’re not closing the book on this chapter forever. So, next week we’ll get back to other travel stuff. But for now: Love you, awesome book nerds.