“What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore it knows it’s not fooling a soul.”
This quote from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is currently displayed prominently in the window of our local town’s bookshop. There’s a good reason for this to be here, very pertinent to my last post about the threat to the existence of the local library.
Crickhowell is a small town of around three thousand souls in the Brecon Beacons National Park. Its High Street and environs, a conservation area, is distinguished by an ensemble of Georgian and early Victorian townhouses and terraces, mostly quite handsome if nondescript. Among its several characteristics are its independent shops, many family-owned. The choice ranges from butchers to bakers, opticians to newsagents, florists to greengrocers and hairdressers to hardware stores. Apart from two banks and a post office, the only nationally recognisable chain shop is the pharmacy run by Boots the Chemist. And, as Crickhowell is a popular tourist centre for the National Park, there are the ubiquitous cafés and eateries, often associated with the generous selection of family-friendly pubs.
Recently the company owning the premises of one of these pub-cum-eateries has sought planning permission to turn the site into a one-stop convenience store run by a national chain, which would have sounded the death knell for most of the independents, causing them to literally shut up shop and turning the high street into a faceless and joyless clone of so many of our other traditional shopping centres.
The response to this threat of fast-food outlets, cheap and cheerless chain stores, charity shops and empty premises probably becoming the town’s future was both swift and heartening: a vocal public meeting reportedly attended by a quarter of the town’s adult population, the printing of hundreds of bills saying No! to the proposed convenience store and the organising of letters of public support.
Most creative of all was the decision of many of the businesses to blank out their shop windows with cardboard or whitewash in anticipation of the closed-down sight that could greet residents and visitors to the town in the future if the plan went ahead. Hence the quote displayed in the bookshop window, the shape of things to come if a supermarket included discount books as a loss-leader on their shelves.
And who dares say that fantasy writers and their readers live in a make-believe world and don’t address real issues?