Although it is only a matter of time, capitalism hasn’t collapsed yet; but even so, right now the way it is going backwards is still a groove sensation – empty retail units and what only a couple of years ago would have seemed like really unlikely pop-ups in place of tedious corporate chains.
As a teenager in the 1970s I always loved exchange bookshops and there were plenty of them in London, even in the centre of town… you’d buy a paperback and if you didn’t want to keep it you could trade it in at half price for something else. The selection was always radically different to the local library, far more trash for a start… I found exchange bookshops a great source of cheap crime novels, fantasy, sci-fi and horror.
Like so many of the classic family owned cafes in London, exchange bookshops disappeared at a fantastic rate during the eighties and nineties. The last one I used with any regularity was on Eldon Street, just west of Liverpool Street station, it was there through much of the nineties, and I often combined a visit to it with a meal in The Copper Grill a couple of doors down; the cafe closed down in 2004, the bookshop some time before.
I haven’t noticed any sixties-style cafes springing up around London recently, but I have clocked a ‘brand new secondhand’ shop just east of Liverpool Street station called Bob’s Book Exchange (which opened this summer). Bob is a friendly geezer who promotes his activities with the following blurbs: “Buy used books and save trees. Save money when you exchange a book. Massive range of fiction & non-fiction books in stock. Books bought for cash. 11 Devonshire Row, London EC2M 4RQ.” And aside from finding the place open well outside its advertised hours, I’ve also overheard some really groovy conversations. For example:
Customer: “Have you got a copy of The Gorse Trilogy by Patrick Hamilton?”
Bob: “No, but you can buy it new.”
Customer: “Some people think I’m strange but I don’t like new books. I only like secondhand paperbacks. When I open a new book I worry I’m going to break the spine. They’re too clean. I won’t buy a new book. I just don’t like them.”
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!