When I graduated from uni three years ago, slowly hauling myself and all my belongings back to Surrey with dreams of a life in books, there was something missing – namely a job! As anyone with aspirations of working within publishing knows, it’s a long slog to get there. Work experiences and internships ensued and in the meantime I managed to procure a part-time job in one of the most magical places Clapham Common had to offer… Under the Greenwood Tree.
This specialised children’s bookshop housed everything everyone’s inner-Matilda could ever want and more, complete with café for the mums! There were beautiful French toys and a vast, amazing selection of books ranging from board to picture to classic to YA. The members of staff became my first real friends after uni and the shop was always full of laughter, fun and the occasional bawling baby. The owner, Sophie, worked her absolute socks off to keep the customers coming back and, for three and a half years, children indulged in Saturday morning story-time, half term fun activities, zooming down the buggy ramp on the shop car and wolfing down the infamous babychinos and mini cupcakes.
The very sad reason I’ve described UTGT in the past tense is because this beautiful shop has fallen victim to the mercenary will of the landlord and the ridiculous rise of rent has meant that, as of yesterday, UTGT shut its magical doors forever.
The numbers of independent bookshops on our high-streets has fallen to a record low, with only 987 left across the country (as reported in Feb 2014). Digital publishing, the beast that is Amazon and other online retailers, and rising rents are the main culprits for this travesty and our lovely little indies are struggling to compete, with many being forced to close their doors for good.
Yes, online shopping nowadays holds the holy grail of consumerism – convenience. You can peruse during your lunch hour and receive your goods the next day when you arrive home. If you know what you want and need it quickly, online shopping is great, but it does cost something. It is unfriendly and faceless, all the ‘recommendations’ you receive are determined through marketing not expertise and you get exactly what you ask for but nothing more. There is no one on the other side of the counter who will discuss your book choices with you, take an interest in how your day’s going, let you know if the new bestseller is actually ‘worth it’ or simply ask whether you have any plans for the weekend.
Since working full-time, I have made a conscious effort to purchase books ‘in the real world’ and unless more people do the same, beautiful places like Under the Greenwood Tree will be lost forever.
People seem to have forgotten the beauty of a good bookshop. Rediscover it before it’s too late. Please.