Today, 7th March 2019, is World Book Day in the UK and Ireland: “The main aim of World Book Day in the UK and Ireland is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own.”
This post has a twofold purpose: to mark World Book Day and, as part of Dewithon — the Wales Readathon — to celebrate the contribution of Book-ish bookshop in Crickhowell‘s High Street to the literary life of Wales. As a resident I’m quite happy to blow the trumpet and bang the drum for this small market town!
For a settlement of a little over 2000 inhabitants (2011 figures) Crickhowell punches above its weight. In the Great British High Street Awards 2018 not only was it Champion Award Winner for Wales but received the supreme accolade of being judged the UK’s Best High Street. On top of that, the enterprising and enthusiastic Emma Corfield-Walters — proprietor of Book-ish — was announced as High Street Hero for Wales.
One of the town’s draws is the number of independent businesses on the High Street and immediate vicinity. When one of its centrally-placed pubs closed a concerted effort was made to stop plans by a national retail chain to turn it into a convenience store competing with small local independents.
After local investment and a comprehensive restoration the successfully completed project was officially opened by the Prince of Wales.
So, in a short stretch of what was the medieval market Street and adjacent to it there is now a diverse range of shops and businesses: two butchers and a baker (no candlestick maker but an aromatherapy outlet); three remaining pubs (two of which were coaching inns) with a couple more further out; at least seven cafés (one attached to the bookshop, another at the purpose-built information centre, a third in the former courthouse, a fourth specialising in vegan food, a fifth in the bakery, a sixth in a nearby courtyard and one proclaiming itself shabby chic vintage).
Add to that three hairdressers; two art galleries, two charity shops and two clothes shops (bijou or boutique? you be the judge); a labyrinthine hardware shop, and a department store (“country and lifestyle clothing”); plus an antique shop and a vintage goods shop (there is a difference, y’know).
And there’s more, here and nearby: a bike repair shop, equine supplies, a florist, a garage, general stores, a family grocery, a newsagent, an off-licence, an optometrist, a shop for walkers exploring the national park and Wales’ first zero-waste shop are also all independent retail premises in the town. Then there are the less visible services like accountants, solicitors, and the local offices of two estate agents based in the area.
Hungry? There’s a chippie, a Chinese takeaway and an Indian restaurant all within walking distance of the High Street. Plus B&Bs and country hotels if you want to stay. The Post Office is run as an independent business though the pharmacy is part of a national chain and the petrol station is a concession. Sadly both the major bank branches in the town have closed in the last three years.
At a time when high streets across Britain are struggling to survive, with empty premises proliferating, Crickhowell is one of a small number of towns that understand the value of independent local businesses in providing a pleasurable shopping experience to contrast with the identikit high streets that currently blight many urban areas.
It’s also one of many places around the world that have subscribed to the Totally Locally initiative which encourages people to think local and shop local first.
Have I mentioned the festivals run throughout the year here? In common with many communities there are events dedicated to walking, classical music (the 25th festival takes placeover the early May holiday weekend), contemporary folk (the famous Green Man Festival every August), plus open garden and open studio weekends. And let’s not of course forget the autumn Crickhowell literary festival which, though not as big or as famous as that of Hay-on-Wye on the other side of the Black Mountains, is nevertheless distinctive, select and intimate.
And now back to World Book Day: today a number of titles by a range of well-known authors are being made available at £1.00 (or the equivalent in euros, or in exchange for a voucher) for young readers in the UK and Ireland. No doubt most if not all will be stocked in Book-ish’s children’s section, but wherever they’re offered one hopes that tomorrow’s adult readers will have their younger minds inspired today.