Tucked away on a side street lives one of Wood Green’s greatest hidden gems. For those in the know, it’s a mecca for all things literary, a jazzy piccolo rift of eccentricity behind the mundane drumbeat of consumer drudgery better known as the High Road.
This eden I speak of is the Big Green Bookshop, Wood Green’s very own independent bookstore and event space.
It was opened in 2008 by Simon Key and Tim West, two previous employees of Wood Green’s branch of Waterstones that closed down in 2007.
Simon reminisces as we chat in between customers and piles of books: “I had a great eight months at Waterstones, then the area manager said that they were closing the shop in 21 days and were going to relocate the staff.
“I didn’t want to do that so I had a word with my business partner Tim, who was the manager of the shop, and said ‘Lets open our own shop,’ and he said ‘All right then.’ Six months later we did it.”
He makes it all sound incredibly easy, but in reality it’s taken determination, dedication and devotion to get where they are today.
“The bookselling side of things me and Tim kind of knew about, because we’d been in the business for so long. But the business side of things – like getting a loan, talking with solicitors – those were the big challenges to begin with. I’m really impatient and so it was massively frustrating for me dealing with solicitors, because it just seemed so simple.”
Wood Green doesn’t exactly have a reputation as somewhere an independent bookshop would flourish. Yet Simon and Tim seem to have proven their critics wrong.
“A lot of people have said, ‘You’re an idiot, no one is going to buy books there,’ and they’re wrong because we have a massively loyal customer base who appreciate what we do and want us to keep going.”
“We like to fill the shop, it’s a community space really.”
When it comes to the positives, it’s hard to pin Simon down to a particular moment. But he soon lights up when he remembers the time they needed a serious cash injection.
“We were about nine months from paying off the bank loan and we’d had a rotten year. We thought, we’ve been honest with our customers all the way through so far, so let’s be honest with them again. I put something on the blog and said ‘please help: it’s coming up to our third birthday, if our customers just buy one extra book over our birthday, that would really help.’
“It went mad. I think we took about £300 that day and the next day we took £2500, and the same again the next day and the next, and it went on and on.”
When you look around, it’s not surprising that anyone who could would help this small bookshop out. It’s filled with an eclectic assortment of classics and obscure authors. Once, looking for a book myself, I asked for something ‘weird’ and was treated to a ten-minute romp around the shop as Simon enthusiastically made suggestions (which, by the way, were all excellent).
By night, the Big Green Bookshop is also an event space that holds a number of interesting talks, comedy nights, writing groups and, of course, book signings. On Monday and Friday mornings they have free storytelling and songs for under-fives, and on Sunday afternoons there is a free board game group from 1pm to 5pm.
Simon and Tim not only want to sell books, they also want to create an area where people can meet each other: “We like to fill the shop, it’s a community space really, and that’s how we try to sell it.”
I asked Simon for his favourite author and book. This, as you can imagine, took a few moments of thought but he eventually decided on George Orwell as his favourite author as he’d read most, if not all, of his books.
As the interview was coming to a close, Simon quickly added, “I still can’t think of my favourite book of all time but let’s go for Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter.”
Which, I believe, is as weird as they get.