Appreciating Independents #3

(Read about why I started this series here)

Word Power Books, 43-45 West Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9DB. 0131 662 9112

Word Power has been a part of my life pretty much ever since it opened, in 1994, largely due to my late (and hugely missed) mum regularly shopping there; for books (obviously) but also leftfield magazines, postcards, birthday cards and gift vouchers at Christmas time.

After my mum passed away last year, one of the ways I decided to pay tribute to  her, on a day-to-day basis, was to buy my books at Word Power. I’d shopped there before but, like so many, had been lured to Amazon over the past few years, with its promise of cheap prices and buying without having to leave the house (and yet, how did the latter become such a selling point?). I wasn’t entirely comfortable about online shopping, and the threat to high street shops however. Then I read about this and decided I would not – could not – buy from them.

Perhaps I should also add, I worked in James Thin (George Street, Edinburgh) and Hatchards (Piccadilly, London), both places adding to  my appreciation of characterful bookshops, where range of stock and higgledy-piggledy shop layouts (plus many interesting colleagues) were part of the rich experience. Not monthly financial targets (that was a priority at another  bookshop I worked at, a chain where  always disappointing sales figures were displayed on a whiteboard in the staffroom, just in case you wanted to feel gloomy while eating lunch) .

So about a year ago I started going to Word Power again. And how pleased I am to have made this decision! The first time, I went in to order a book (they can order any book published in the UK). But I browsed too – it’s like a sweetie shop for book lovers, so impossible not to – and really enjoyed looking at the varied stock. Fascinating political and women’s studies books; novels and short story collections, beautifully bound with colourful and intriguing covers, and that’s just for starters. And here you don’t just stare at the titles on a computer screen, impatiently scrolling down for the price. You can pick them up, touch them, read the blurb, take a few minutes to decide if you wish to buy it.

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I stumbled across a book I’d been wanting to buy for ages (A Sideways Look at Time by Jay Griffiths). This, combined with the friendliness of the owner and her dog Marshall (who lies by the till and, if he’s not sleeping, paws you to say hello), and being able to carry my book home, there and then…well, it all made this shopping experience, and ones since then, a pleasure. Perhaps it cost a couple of quid more than it would online, but, in terms of shopping satisfaction (and zero frustration), isn’t that money well spent?

Word Power is 20 years old this November. It also has an exciting line-up for its Edinburgh Book Fringe, which starts this Friday, August 8th. I spoke to owner Elaine Henry about the beginnings of Word Power  and how the first two decades have been – see the  next post.


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