The Bookshop Q&A: Woolfson & Tay

Woolfson & Tay
Woolfson & Tay

Woolfson & Tay

12 Bermondsey Square, London SE1 3UN. Bermondsey Square was recently awarded the title of London’s best new public space at the London Planning Awards held at City Hall on January 20th!

How long have you been open?
Since September 11th, 2010

What sort of books to do you sell?
We’re a general bookshop, (though we also have a gallery space that doubles as a café). We tend towards literary titles, and have an unusual collection of what we call international titles, which feature less well known but no less amazing European, South American and Far Eastern authors. We also have a pretty good selection of autobiographies and biographies as our ethos centres on celebrating life stories and the resilience of the human spirit. Our top 3 bestselling titles since we’ve opened are Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question.

Describe a typical day at the shop
Well, it’s pretty hard to describe a ‘typical’ day as we have Tai Chi, Pregnancy Yoga and Babies & Buggies mornings on certain days, and these start before our normal working hours. We also have events and workshops; from author events, writing workshops to open mic poetry and true storytelling sessions… But if we had to sum up a fairly ‘typical day’, it would be people coming in to browse before noon, followed by a lunch crowd until about 2pm, then generally it gets quieter for the rest of the day, with occasional drop-ins and people wanting to relax or have a break over a cup of coffee and a slice of homemade cake. The madness starts about 6-ish if we have an evening event or workshop on, as we will be reorganising the café space, moving furniture about, that sort of thing.

How did you get into bookselling?
Well, my partner Fran and I started a non profit project 2 years ago focusing on life stories. We wanted a venue to host similar events and projects. At the same time, I had always had a dream of owning a bookshop as I love books – my home is like a mini library! – and the two just came together I guess.

What is your favourite book in the shop?
Fran will say her favourite is Shen Fu’s Six Records of a Floating Life. As for me, there’s too many to mention, so if I had to pick a few they would be: Wandering Star by JMG Le Clezio, History of Love by Nicole Krauss and anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Name three exciting things that happened in 2010.
There’s been so many! If I had to choose three, they would be our opening of course on September 11th, and our first exhibition in the gallery with Jillian Edelstein’g compelling images of the TRC in South Africa. At that event, the actors Janet Suzman and Paul Herzberg did an amazing reading and performance respectively; it was a powerful event. More recently we had a Holocaust commemoration event with Gena Turgel MBE providing survivor testimony, also author Mark S Smith, the spoken word poet Leah Thorn, and US artist Susan Weinberg. It was another exciting and truly powerful event.

What are you looking forward to in 2011?
Improving our skills as booksellers, continuing our mission to create a community space that people want to come to and will keep wanting to return to…  Also some exciting events ahead, e.g. for International Women’s Day, we are hosting Naomi Alderman, Sarah Blake and Elif Shafak, and they will be speaking about women and self-censorship. To host quality events like this that have meaning and promote awareness about issues we care about.

Why should people visit your bookshop?
I know it’s clichéd to say this, but we really are trying to be more than a retail outlet. We want to create a space that promotes reflection, that celebrates life and creativity, that encourages dialogue. I hope that people will visit our bookshop because it’s not about the hard sell and moving products, though that’s important too, but because we stand for something and we hope it’s also reflected in the choice of books we select.

For more information, visit woolfson&


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