There is an independent bookshop in Bath, England that is doing every right. Everything. They’re called Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, and with a name like that, you can be assured that shopping there will be an event. These days, shopping at a brick-and-mortar, indie bookstore must be an event. Mr. B’s understands this.
It’s not just the free coffee or the private reading booth or the light and airy rooms that makes it impossible to spend less than an hour browsing here; it’s having a staff that just gets it. Well read, intelligent, approachable and delighted to talk about books all day long, the folks at Mr. B’s understand that what keeps customers coming back to them rather than another bookstore or, heaven forbid, Amazon, is… them. Like me, the Mr B’s Team are makers of lists and the bookstore is filled with shelves labeled “Our Favourites Your Favourites,” “Mr B’s Delightful Lists,” and “What We’re Reading.” However, it’s rare you’ll come across these without first having swapped reading preferences with a staff person when you first arrived. It’s rare, too, you’ll leave empty handed, particularly with a stack of books recommended by a reliable book ambassador who you will leave convinced is your reading soulmate.
Fancy an escape? Steal away to Mr. B’s plush private reading booth for an hour of uninterrupted book therapy. And speaking on therapy, did you know the Mr. B’s staff are all trained bibliotherapists and that they offer a number of spa treatments? For fifty-five pounds, forty of which go toward books, you can sit down with a knowledgeable staff person, eat some cake, drink some coffee and discuss your reading preferences in a relaxed environment. It’s the thing to do if you’re in a reading rut. The staff person recommends books you may not have heard of or have never thought to try, and which you will undoubtedly adore.
Then there’s the practice of constantly innovating, which the folks at Mr. B’s do so as not to fall into their own rut. Such was the case about a year ago when the staff got together and decided they wanted to do their events differently, make them more of an event, as it were. Working with a local Bath-based band, the staff began writing lyrics to songs inspired by the work of authors coming to read. These author events then began with a bit of live music (in addition to mingling, a buffet style dinner and drinks), before sequeing into an altogether more atmospheric author reading. The music was such a hit that the band was happy to make it a regular thing, calling themselves The Bookshop Band and producing the many CDs that can see in the photo above. Their music was playing while I browsed and it sounded quite as professional and polished as any indie folk group coming out of Portland. Think Jose Gonzalez meets The Decemberists.
And if your favorite Finnish book happens to be out of print in the UK, why not collaborate with a local artist and a major publishers and print your own Special Edition? Only available at Mr B’s (and only 300 copies in print), The Howling Miller was the first of two Mr B’s Special Edition publications and, judging by customers’ enthusiasm, they will not be the last.So as you can see, I’m smitten. I used to shop here when I was a student in Bath and coming back to it makes my heart swell. Not simply because it marks a chapter in my own life, but because Mr B’s is everything a bookstore ought to be. I began writing this blog as a way to research the market and catalogue my ideas should I ever pluck up the courage to open my own bookstore. If I never do it will be because Mr B’s has already done what I would do and they have done it better. Put simply, it is the best. If you’re in England, go to Bath. If you’re in Bath and must choose between visiting Mr B’s and anything else the city has to offer (Roman Baths included), choose Mr B’s. It’s that good.