Is there a sadder high street sight than an abandoned book shop?
When Karen brought Owen to see me at work in Richmond, Surrey, last week I suggested they visit the wonderful Lion & Unicorn children’s bookshop. (I bought my very first books for Owen there: books to read in the bath.) I was shocked when Karen reported that the shop had closed down.
The Lion & Unicorn had been a Richmond institution for over 35 years. Roald Dahl opened it in 1977, and countless famous authors visited over the years. But soaring rents and the rise of online book selling put it out of business, owner Jenny Morris explained to the Daily Telegraph. It joins a sad list of wonderful independent bookshops that have lost the fight for life, including the famous Harbour Bookshop in Dartmouth, once run by AA Milne’s son Christopher Robin and his wife Lesley.
The fact I hadn’t noticed the Lion & Unicorn had closed says a lot – about me. I have always loved books, but didn’t shop there enough. We live over 25 miles from Richmond, so Owen and I tend to go to Waterstone’s shop in Amersham. (We recently chose my childhood favourite, The Secret Garden, with his World Book Day token.) And I wonder if selling just children’s books was another factor in the Lion & Unicorn’s demise. When we go to a bookshop, Owen will look at the children’s titles while I look at my favourites as well.
Richmond still has two excellent bookshops: a big Waterstone’s and The Open Book.
Books and book stores create life-long memories. As a child and teenager I loved Lears in Cardiff. And I still remember visiting George’s in Bristol as an 11 year old in 1975. I bought so many cherished books in those stores: every Famous Five and Secret Seven title, along with Malcolm Saville’s marvellous Lone Pine series, set in the Wales/England borderlands, Sussex and Devon.