Customers sit outside Bookbar in Islington

London Independent Bookshop of the Year finalists announced

The owners of a North London bookshop and wine bar will be hoping for third time lucky after being nominated for Independent Bookshop of the Year.

Islington’s BookBar has been a London finalist the last three years but is yet to win the regional prize and feature on the shortlist for the national award.

It forms part of a ten-strong regional shortlist, with the overall winner being crowned at the British Book Awards in May.

The shop’s founder Chrissy Ryan is hopeful that they can go one better this time around.

She said: “The nomination is really great because there are loads of bookshops in London and so many amazing ones that I admire a lot.

“I was reading the list of finalists thinking ‘wow, I love what you guys do, I think you’re really cool,’ so to then be in the mix is always a really nice thing – obviously it would be amazing to win but there are lots of deserving bookshops.”

One of the competition’s focuses this year has been around the spaces that bookshops provide and the services that differentiate them from online sellers, with Tom Tivnan, managing editor of The Bookseller which runs the award, emphasising that.

He said: “Indies have come out of the pandemic and into a cost-of-living and business rates crises, yet through innovation and creativity they thrive as never before.

“They are lynchpins of our high street, bringing jobs, footfall and communities together.

“Their collective knowledge and passion shine through and prove once again how much better shop floor expertise is than an algorithm.”

This is something which Ryan was also keen to emphasise and the reason why she sees the future as a secure one.

She said: “High street shops need to have a reason to be a physical space for people to come into, and independent businesses thrive in that respect because we are community spaces.

“Independent bookshops are places where the community come, meet, linger, hang out. It’s all about experiential retail.

“As a customer you build a relationship with the people who are selling the books so I might get to know a someone and they trust my taste and trust me to give them a curveball.

“It’s about creating an experience that people cannot find online and that’s what independent businesses do so well.”

The Common Press in Shoreditch (Image credit: The Bookseller)

Another bookshop on this year’s shortlist is The Common Press, which specialises in LGBTQ literature and that of other marginalised voices.

Aisha Shaibu-Lenoir, the bookshop’s owner, is also keen to stress the importance of their space to the community, which includes a basement events venue and café.

She said: “We find that there’s very little space for our community and we really wanted to make sure that we have the books, but we also have the social aspect through events, through gatherings.

“It is important that we are able to feel more like a community, but a community that actually cares and stands for what’s right.

“There’s very few spaces in the LGBTQ community that exist during the day, because there’s always a strong emphasis on nightlife and alcohol because that’s how things have always been.

“We wanted a space where we focus on our strength and we focus on how our differences make us special and make us unique and so that’s why we say we’re intersectional – it’s not just focusing on one group it’s focusing on the strength of all of us, for us to be visible.”

This is the first time that The Common Press have made the final shortlist for the award following their founding three years ago.

The regional winners will be announced on 12 March, with the overall winner crowned on 13 May.

The full list of London Independent Bookshop of the Year nominees is as follows:

Children’s Bookshop in Muswell Hill, Burley Fisher Books in Haggerston, The Common Press in Bethnal Green, Round Table Books CIC in Brixton, BookBar in Islington, Village Books in Dulwich, Backstory in Balham, Brick Lane Bookshop in Tower Hamlets, The Riverside Bookshop in London Bridge, Goldsboro Books Limited in Charing Cross

Featured image credit: The Bookseller

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