Bromley’s only independent bookshop thriving despite doom and gloom elsewhere

PUBLISHED: 13:29 12 March 2014 | UPDATED: 10:34 13 March 2014

The shop's owner Kelly Bradford, 37

The shop's owner Kelly Bradford, 37


Owning a bookshop is a romantic notion for many keen readers. But in reality, taking the leap can be daunting, as the decline in independent booksellers demonstrates.

Sarah Butler, Kelly Bradford and Sue Harris from the bookshopSarah Butler, Kelly Bradford and Sue Harris from the bookshop

The number of independent UK bookshops dipped below 1,000 last year, with 67 closing their doors for the final time.

In 2005, there were 1,535 such shops, according to the Booksellers Association’s annual membership figures.

Despite doom and gloom elsewhere in the country, Bromley’s only independent store is bucking the trend by going from strength to strength.

Kelly Bradford, 37, has been running the Beckenham Bookshop for more than two years after serving under the former manager for four years.

“I absolutely love what I’m doing,” she said. “I thought I would give it a go as I really believe in independent bookshops and, though it is hard work, every day is a highlight.”

Kelly previously worked at the now defunct chain Books Etc before taking on a role in the reference section at Bromley Central Library.

With the support of husband Stuart, 41, Kelly decided to follow her ambition to work in an independent bookshop.

She joined the Beckenham Bookshop on a part-time basis before rising up to the post of manager.

However, the future of the store was thrown into doubt when its owners, who had other shops, ran into financial trouble.

“They went bankrupt and gave us a really short time to decide whether we wanted to buy the shop and to sort everything out,” said Kelly.

“We couldn’t do it that quickly so the store had to close. I didn’t want it to but it was unavoidable.”

Beckenham’s High Street was without its independent for three months but it returned in style with a “grand reopening”.

“I felt absolutely delighted,” said Kelly. “People were so happy to see it back, which was wonderful.

“There were so many people who knew the shop and who we had built a rapport with, so it was lovely to reopen.”

The shop, which has four other employees, sells a little bit of everything when it comes to books.

It also has two book clubs and a loyalty scheme. Customers are rewarded with a stamp for every £10 they spend (excluding book tokens). Once their card is full of stamps, they receive a £10 voucher.

The store, which orders titles for customers within 24 hours, also works with schools and is hoping to stage more children’s events, including some with illustrators.

“I think the personal service is the main thing,” said Kelly. “We can’t compete on price but we know our books; everyone who works here really enjoys talking about books with people.”

But with the difficult climate for independent shops, is Kelly worried about what the future holds?

“It is one of those situations where you are very aware of what’s going on, but you just have to enjoy your work,” she said.

“We feel a little bit privileged really to still be here and we are so lucky that the good people of Beckenham are wonderful and very supportive.”

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