Blessington Book Store – Thriving in a Digital World
Janet Hawkins spent over a decade living and working in Amsterdam as a chartered accountant. She then returned to her Irish home in the town of Blessington, County Wicklow, to open a book store on the main street.
In 2009 Janet realized that selling books alone would not keep her business afloat. She then moved to a bigger space across the street and reopened her bookstore to include a cafe. The result? Her book store thrives, and the cafe has doubled business income. The bakery produces homemade goods, while staff choose coffee for quality.
“The cafe is an independent stream of income,” Janet explained. “A little old lady once told me she wouldn’t buy my books because she can get them free from the library. While telling me this, she sat eating a scone and drinking tea in my cafe.”
Soon after moving to the new store location, Janet hired a contractor to punch a hole in the back wall – expanding the building size to include a children’s book section. This increased the overall interior store volume by a third.
I wondered how the recent boom in e-books had impacted her store sales.
“Kindle and Amazon mostly impacted fiction,” said Janet. But fiction accounts for only 600 of her titles – a quarter of book sales.
Janet explained her appreciation for books.
“The author of The Master told how people need a three-legged stool for balance – including physical, spiritual, and imaginative aspects,” Janet told me while sharing coffee and fresh scones at a store table She explained how books help provide this balanced stool for many readers. She also told how – in ‘old’ Ireland’ – people wandered into neighbors’ homes and launched into telling stories to solidify friendships.
Janet told of how two contemporary problems impact publishing: inadequate editing, and popular books written by mediocre writers (often because their plots or themes correspond to current trends).
Janet will not try to impact these problem’s outcomes. Today, she explained – book sellers have to perform multiple tasks – from “putting on a frock and attending literary awards ceremonies, to washing cafe dishes that same day.”
Janet’s energetic and optimistic management of the Blessington Book Store reflects how book sellers are adapting to changing market conditions in a world prolific with e-books. Her cafe also reflects the truth that above all, reading is a leisure activity.