The Bookseller from Hell

6th January 2017

This week a news story about a Yorkshire bookseller, nicknamed “the bookseller from hell” has caused a flutter in the press. Steve Bloom who runs a bookshop in Yorkshire charges browsers a 50p entrance fee (refundable with any purchase) and the local council has apparently received numerous complaints about his rudeness, although he reportedly regrets calling a customer “ a pain in the arse.” Is he merely living up to the stereotype of the second hand bookseller?

Channel 4's comedy show Black Books portrayed ill-tempered bookshop owner, Bernard Black


Secondhand booksellers are natural misanthropes.” Says Stephen Moss in his article in yesterday’s Guardian. “If you don’t buy a book, you are wasting their time; if you do a buy a book, you are stealing one of their friends.”

I have never considered introducing an entrance fee to our shop and I love customers coming in to browse and showing off beautiful books or poring over original manuscripts and letters.  We spend hours with visitors looking at rare books they will never buy and discussing books we’ve read, plays we have seen and exhibitions we have visited. It is all part of the joy of a second hand bookshop. Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road is not a work of fiction, merely a snapshot of the rapport established between booklovers and their customers.


In a recent article Alexander  Larman noted, “the cliché of the second-hand bookshop was somewhere more likely than not to contain a bookseller of indeterminate years wearing a cardigan decorated with yesterday’s lunch, possibly a sulky cat hovering about and books piled to the ceiling. Some of these books might be extremely valuable, while others might be worthless, but much of the fun of visiting these shops was bound up in a conversation with the proprietor, who more often than not had dropped out of a profession like teaching or academia – sometimes under a cloud – to embrace a dream brought about by the love of books.”



 However, times are changing and I can see how a book dealer has got to the stage where he feels that an entry fee is necessary. Almost daily people come into the shop and blithely leaf through centuries old books without a thought to how these treasures have survived the decades undamaged.  Books get spread-eagled on the desk, spine caps are tugged, pristine dustjackets get crumpled, corners are bumped and hinges split as books are dropped on the floor. Ruefully, I think back to my childhood visits to gift shops, which bore notices warning  “breakages must be paid for.”

A couple of other trends have become apparent in bookshops in recent years. Firstly, visitor numbers have fallen markedly and, secondly, the internet has dramatically changed the way we shop. The decline in high street shopping , combined with high rents, means that bookshops are vanishing or struggling to make ends meet. The advent of the internet has brought with it great websites, e-catalogues and ever more online resources. Whilst at first glance this benefits the book buyer offering immediacy and occasionally lower prices, it negates the need to visit bookshops and will eventually lead to lower quality, worse value for money and  impersonal service. Not infrequently nowadays visitors will enthuse about a book, discuss with me its author, artist, provenance and story behind its publication and then leave the shop saying “I will look out for a copy of that.” One bookseller I spoke to recently told me that browsers in her shop often find a book that interests them, ask for the ISBN number and order the book from Amazon before leaving her store.

Shops risk becoming little more than a marketing resource for online sites, but they can only keep going for so long without customers.  “The internet has changed the game”, says Larman, bringing with it “the demise of many old-fashioned independent shops, whose unworldly owners might have just about been able to feed, clothe and house themselves when they could occasionally sell a higher-cost item amidst the dross, but now are likely to … engage in a miserably lonely retirement at home.”


I disagree with the spirit of charging entry to bookshops, but I can see what drove Steve Bloom to take this step and I suspect we’ve all had occasion to call customers “a pain in the arse” though usually not until after they have left the shop. But if you love books, browsing and personal interaction then shop local, shop small and make the most of the independent retailers on your high street.

Our door is open, free of charge, and we’d welcome the chance to share the treasures of our shelves with you. 



Stephen Moss 'I'm on the same page as the bookseller from hell'. Here's why   The Guardian, Jan 2017



Add a comment

Thank you for your comment. Your comment will appear on the site after it has been reviewed by a member of our team.