Clapton bookshop in running for national award

Posted on March 22, 2010

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*Article originally appeared in The Hackney Post

A tiny bookshop in one of the borough’s most notoriously crime-ridden areas has received a nomination for Independent Bookseller of the Year.

Pages of Hackney, on Lower Clapton Road, goes up against five other stores in the South-East and London regional section of the competition.

The winner of each of the four regional competitions goes forward to the national final, which takes place on May 17. A prize of £5000 awaits the winning bookshop.

Opened in 2008 by Eleanor Lowenhall, who lives above the shop, Pages of Hackney has overcome great odds to become a thriving part of the community.

“It feels great to do it in the first year that we could have,” she said. “ It’s Hackney, it’s the Murder Mile, it’s a tiny shop, but we feel like we’ve done a lot in a small amount of time and in a small space and in a small community.”

She said the nomination vindicated her decision to open the shop in the first place.

“I think people were really surprised when I opened up here,” she said. “It’s not traditionally much of a shopping street, but it does get a lot of passing trade and I’d say most of my customers live within short walking distance of the shop.

“So we make use of being a local shop catering for a local community which we tapped into through our events.”

The shop’s gallery basement provides a perfect space for various events, including author visits and spoken word meetings.

World pages

Lowenhall says she was inspired to open the bookshop after spending a year travelling the world.

“I’ve lived in this area for a number of years now, and I went away travelling for a year, and I just noticed that everywhere else in the world seemed to have more bookshops than London,” she said.

“South America was where it really came home to me. A lot of South American cities are quite impoverished, but book-rich, and have amazing bookshops with personality.

“They seem to thrive in a place you wouldn’t really expect them to. Which is kind of the model I’m going on because you wouldn’t necessarily expect that you’d just happen upon a bookshop around here.”

The building that Pages now occupies certainly has an interesting history. It was the local post office until the postmaster was shot dead in a robbery, one of a number of incidents that earned Clapton Road the moniker of ‘Murder Mile’. More recently it housed a barber’s, but Lowenhall found the premises in a terrible state when she moved in.

After six months of rebuilding, she was able to open the store in September 2008, and is happy with the success it has had so far.

“It’s doing alright now. I think I would struggle if it was just the bookshop. I’m making full use of being a bookshop in London.” She has become the preferred bookseller for Penguin events in London and is the official bookseller for the London Word Festival. “Probably about half my revenue comes from off-site events,” she says.

She admits competition is stiff to make it through to the national level, though she is desperate to get her hands on the £5000 prize, which has been “already spent in my mind”.

“One [competitor] was a shop that I looked at in Brighton before I opened, Kemp Town books, and that’s a lovely shop, so I’m really pleased to be up alongside them. But it would be great to win the region and go on to the final.”

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