Some of us in Frome Writers’ Collective wanted to know what managing our popular Frome bookshop was like, so we sent a few questions to Tina Gaisford-Waller, Manager of Hunting Raven Books in Cheap Street – and she kindly answered them.
What’s been the most surprising aspect of managing Hunting Raven so far?
A couple of things really. The first is just how physical the job is! I lost half a stone in the first week of working here, and I am very rarely off my feet. It’s something I love about the job and which I craved during years of working in a desk-bound job. The second is just how well I have come to know the stock. With over 8000 titles on the shelves, I had thought there was no way I could know all of them. But I think I’ve come to know what we have here in the shop weirdly well. And I am a bit like a sniffer dog – I just need the whiff of a title or author (or the colour of the cover!) and I am off ferreting the book out!
Do you have a favourite part of the job?
I absolutely love the people part of my job. I am so fond of our customers and I love meeting with sales reps and authors. It is easily the best part of the job. I finally feel part of the fabric of the Frome community – something which I missed when I worked out of town. I have also surprised myself by how much I like working with numbers and data. We use a lot of reporting – national sales data, shop sales data – to inform our decisions about what to stock and how to present it. Bookselling is a satisfying blend of the creative and the analytical.
The shop is often very busy and we saw you took part in a TV interview about the resurgence of independent bookshops in the South-West. Is this a local phenomenon, or a general trend?
I am happy to say that, after years of taking a battering, the independent book sector is beginning to bounce back. In 1995 there were 1894 Independent Bookshops. By 2016 this number had more than halved. The numbers are beginning to creep back up. I think the thrill of buying things at rock bottom prices is beginning to give way, as people start to realise the grim reality of what it’s like to live in a town with no shops, no cafes, no high street to speak of. When people buy things locally they are investing in their towns and connecting with their communities. It’s important to me that Hunting Raven is open and welcome to people from all walks of Frome life. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel out of their comfort zone in the shop – we’re here for everyone. I really feel like the community give us back as much as we give them.
Cheap Street is a lively mix of shops and cafés. Do you feel part of a street community?
Absolutely! I have been made to feel very welcome by all the other traders on our lovely street – and those from the ‘other side of the tracks’ on Catherine Hill and Stony Street. I definitely spend way too much money in La Strada! Living in Frome, Cheap Street isn’t just where I work though. It’s also where I shop, and where I bring my daughters on my days off. High streets are where we spend our time as much as our money, and we are so lucky in Frome to have a thriving town centre.
Are there any plans for further development?
Oh gosh. Yes! And so many more plans than I have time to put into place. The ones on the horizon that I am most excited about are our Books Against Loneliness project. Last September we were one of seven bookshops in the UK to be awarded a generous grant to run a project with a community focus. I am so happy to be teaming up with the amazing Frome charity Active and in Touch. We will be using books as a force against loneliness. I can’t wait to get stuck in. The other things up our sleeves are ‘Pyjama Story-time’ sessions for the little ones, and a Proof/Pudding bookclub, where we share advance copies with people and then we all meet up and dicuss them over pudding! Books and cake? What’s not to like! We are also looking to extend our events and schools programme. There’s just so much to do – and so little time to get it all done.
What’s the strangest/funniest request you’ve had since you became manager?
The requests have all been pretty reasonable so far – though I did manage to catch a pigeon mid-flight after it flew into the shop and started to panic. The funny thing is that it’s the second time I’ve done it (the other was in a fishmongers in South London). So maybe, if I ever grow out of love with being the manager of the best bookshop in the world, I will become a pigeon fancier.
Thanks, Tina – we’re very lucky that you and Hunting Raven are part of the Frome scene!