I was up in the Brunswick Centre, Bloomsbury, the other day and went looking for Skoob Books, one of London’s best second hand bookshops.
When I arrived at the place I remembered the shop being located, I found this instead…
The chain stores had moved in! And Skoob had been driven out.
Assuming that that was it for Skoob, yet another victim of the relentless spread of High Street Anywhere, I wandered off.
Further on I discovered – thanks to a sign tied to a lamppost – that Skoob was actually still in business and had found a place to trade in a basement underneath a new Waitrose Supermarket.
The entrance is somewhat hidden, right until you are almost at the door. But it’s well worth the trouble to find.
I think there’s something enormously symbolic about this shop being literally driven underground.
It’s not just the fact that it’s an independently run shop, doing what it can to survive in an era that has seen chain stores running out of viable places to either buy out and take over.
It’s also partly to do with the idea of books, especially older, tattier, rarer and out of print books, being a sort of forbidden commodity you have to seek out; grubby and somehow not fit to be perused by this frappe-slurping, Top-Shopping generation.
The shop may be underground but doesn’t feel like a cellar. It’s more like an Aladdin’s cave. It’s a warm, airy room you enter, crammed with as many books as it’s scientifically possible accommodate in the space. And everything is in a logical order.
I was amused to see that, for no real reason, there’s an upright piano against one wall.
Perhaps it’s for people who want to try the sheet music before they buy. I’m sure Skoob are happy to let patrons play – so long as they can actually play.
Staff were keen to help and happy to take the time to track things down on a given subject.
‘A visitor‘ left this comment on 13 Nov 08
‘A visitor‘ left this comment on 22 Oct 08
Here in little old Heckmondwike our secondhand bookshop on Union Road has closed its doors(been there for as long as I can remember-Lived locally all my life)It is going to be turned into yet more over priced undersized flats.
‘Christian‘ left this comment on 19 Jul 08
Nice post. And I find that first photo that you took quite terrifying in the grey uniformity of the shops and the way they seem to blend seamlessly with the grey sky, grey pavement, and grey people! :O)