UP CLOSE : Booking in with this Frome bookseller : Who tells us she has been blown away by just how supportive, kind and downright lovely everyone has been

  Posted: 10.02.21 at 09:48 by The Editor

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Frome Nub News loves books, but we also really love a book shop which is award-winning, friendly, and is on the same page in terms of optimism. So we were thrilled in our latest UP CLOSE series on local businesses to profile the wonderful Winstone's Hunting Raven Books, and to learn a bit more about how the manager, Tina Gaisford-Waller is staying positive, how she sees the future of the book-buying public, and how Frome is right out in front in terms of book taste !

So first of all - how has business been under lockdown?

Now that we're almost a year into the crisis, and deep into on our third lockdown, you could say we've got a pretty well-oiled operation going. The first lockdown was such an unknown, and our sister shop (Winstone's Sherborne) ran our service for us during those first few uncertain months. It was great that our customers could still get books, but we missed that connection.

The November lockdown was all about getting word out about what we were offering, so it was brilliant to be in a place like Frome where Nub News and the Frome Times, as well as the countless social media groups, stepped up to support independent retail. We managed to set up an e-commerce site between lockdowns- Christmas was a very different experience, but we somehow managed to keep pace with last year - even if our big rush came three weeks earlier than anticipated.

Having a website that can handle sales is great, but the very best way for people to order is definitely by phone or email, as we totally love to hear all about what people are reading and to give great recommendations.

We always knew our customers were amazing - coronavirus proved it

The shop on Cheap Street is a national award winner

Lockdown has really transformed business for us. I always knew we had a strong base of loyal customers but we have been simply blown away by just how supportive, kind and downright lovely everyone has been - from dropping in boxes of biscuits and mince pies and posies of flowers to writing really thoughtful notes of thanks. Adversity has a knack of making or breaking relationships, and the relationship we have with our readers and book buyers has really grown this year.

Have you spotted different book buying habits?

Frankly, with over 100 books on my to-be-read pile, I've been amazed at how many people seem to be stocking up on new reads! I have had to resort to sneaking books into my house, as my husband has banned me from bringing any more home.

We've definitely seen people's one-off spends on books increasing - in the beginning, when everyone panic-buying toilet roll, our customers were in Hunting Raven panic-buying books.

In terms of what people have been reading, fiction has been top of the list. You can't beat escaping the confines of your own experience by reading a great piece of fiction. Natural History is always a strong seller for us, and books about nature and about how the natural world can transform and transport us sold big this year. Who would've thought that our third-best-selling book of the year would be about fungi?

It helps to be an optimist, but Tina has noticed how important books have become under coronavirus

Why are books your passion?

I've spent my life trying to find that elusive 'perfect job' - the one that fulfils all parts of you and plays completely to your strengths and loves. I started out as a professional actor and dancer, which I loved. But - you can work really hard and get absolutely nowhere. I moved from acting to publishing.

When I started to plan a family, I did the sensible thing and took a secure job in the NHS, mainly so I could build up maternity benefits.

When my second daughter was five weeks old my sister-in-law told me that Hunting Raven was looking for a manager and that I should apply. But I let the opportunity slide.

Just as I was kicking myself for missing out on the chance of a lifetime, the job was advertised again and I decided that no-one else would get their mitts on it. That job would be mine.

The window to the shop on Cheap Street in Frome is also something to behold

Luckily, I managed to convince my now-boss the same and the rest is history.

What does Frome mean to you ?

It's almost three years since I took the post and we've twice been nominated and, finally, this year won Independent Bookshop of the Year for the whole of the South West. We've also won two separate awards for demonstrating our commitment to the community.

I am a born and bred Fromie. This town means everything to me. Hunting Raven was a big part of my childhood, and I wanted to uphold its reputation for being a lovely, welcoming indie bookshop with something for everyone. It's not just about the books for me. It's all about the place. I can't imagine running a bookshop anywhere but here. It's where I belong. I finally found my dream job.

So give us the recent history of the book world ? How has it changed ?

The book world is a truly inspiring place. When Amazon started to tighten its grip on the book market in the Noughties, and eBooks were first on the rise, the media was very quick to forecast the end of the physical book.

What they completely underestimated was the passion publishers and readers have for the physical object of a book and the visceral experience that reading is.
Publishers, and their talented commissioners, designers and editors, rose to the challenge; playing, with glorious confidence, to their strengths. The result? Books have never been more beautiful, more interesting, more relevant and more amazing. And the book business is still booming.

Furthermore, people seem to waking up to the fact that algorithms just don't cut it when it comes to book recommendations. Reading is both solitary and social.

We love to talk about books and what we're reading. I have definitely felt people starting to move away from Amazon in favour of a more personal experience, as well as to support and invest in their local community.
We've chatted to so many new customers this year who have given Amazon the boot. Of course, we're lucky to be where we are - my heart goes out to independent bookshops in city centres who are paying huge rates to trade in freakishly empty streets.

That's a very tough thing to be going through. Don't get me wrong, we've suffered an enormous hit this last year, but with the continued support of our brilliant local customers and local media we'll hang on in there. You'd have to carry me out kicking and screaming!

So if people want to grab a book ?

Though we are obviously, and sadly, still closed for browsing we are are offering a full bookselling service. We can accept orders by phone (01373 473111), email ([email protected]), and online (www.winstonebooks.co.uk). Payment can be made online, over the phone, or at the door upon collection - and we can accept all the usual forms of payment, including book tokens.

We are currently open during our usual hours for collections from the door, and we are still offering free local delivery for those who aren't yet out and about or postal delivery for those further afield.

Our website stock currently feeds through from our Sherborne shop, so if you can't find what you're looking for online do drop us a line. Chances are we'll have it (Fromie's have way better taste than Sherbonites!) or we can order it in for you - typically by midday the next day. People have expressed amazement at how quick our service is, which is a lovely feeling.

So you can call Winstone's Hunting Raven Books on 01373 473111, email [email protected], or browse online by clicking HERE the Winstone book site
You can also follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Just search Hunting Raven.

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