15th February 2014 - Joshua Piercey
Our new branch at London Waterloo Station opened its doors just a week ago. Joshua Piercey, one of the team at Waterloo, recalls the labour-intensive process of getting the shop ready for its first day and explains why it means as much to him as it does to the many travellers who've already discovered this new oasis of calm in Britain's busiest station. And beneath, we reveal our Top 10 bestsellers in Waterloo's first seven days.
My first week is over and I'm exhausted, and covered in the wimpy injuries that booksellers get. My new smart shoes gave me blisters. A stack of books started sliding from a high shelf and I elected to arrest their progress with my face. I strained my lats lifting a rolling cage of boxes over a high step. At one point I sliced open my thumb on a viciously sharp invoice. I'm dog-tired, and I couldn't be happier.
To understand what Foyles Waterloo Station means to me, you need to travel back to last summer, as I get made redundant from a bookselling gig for the second time. My beloved indie, oh you were perfect. Freezing in winter, boiling in summer, front door so drafty you could fly a kite in front of it. Tiny inside, but so full of nooks and crannies that I was never even half sure of everything we had. There was a copy of The Yellow Wallpaper that I looked for a hundred times; I never had the heart to delete it from the database because I just knew it was in there somewhere.
If you're reading this - an article by a bookseller on the blog of a bookselling company - then you don't need me to explain the fortunes of the trade in the last ten years. You don't need to me to explain the fate of my old shop, although I hope you find it in you to sympathise (where else am I going to have job that was ten minutes cycle - downhill - from my house?) As a whole, the industry has had a wobble or two. You're aware of the situation. You might lament the loss of highstreet bookshops, you might hold a dearly departed, much missed indie close to your heart. It might even be my indie.
If you're looking for a tonic for the above melancholy, you should stroll in to Foyles Waterloo Station. I spent a few sorry months bemoaning my lot - six years a bookseller, now look at me, the bells, the bells, etc - and now I'm dashing around my new shop, clipboard under my arm and stack of books in my hand and a blister like an angry grape in my shoe, trying to find a second to stop and take it in because it feels a bit like magic.
It helps that the place looks the part. Example: the cash desk is made out of carefully stacked and arranged books. Obviously this is mint, but my favourite part is that people tend to get fixated on it, and so when they come up and squee about it I can ask if they've noticed the chandeliers, which they hardly ever have (people don't look up). I won't spoil them for you, but those chandeliers are great.
It was a bit of a shuffle, in the end. I meant to blog about the process of opening the shop, a plan that seems laughably unrealistic in hindsight. There were a lot of long days and late nights and a pile of cardboard boxes that still haunts my dreams. It's been a long time coming for many of the staff, and that's partly why the reception we've had has been so gratifying. Several times a day people tell us how pleased they are to see us here, and what a good addition we make to the station, and how it's wonderful to finally have a proper bookshop.
And that's the other gratifying part about working for Foyles, in that we are a proper bookshop. We work like a proper bookshop should. We have everything a proper bookshop should have. I flippin' know we do, because I put it all out on the shelves myself.
I helped pull the fixtures down at my last job. I didn't set the burglar alarm when I left for the final time, because there was nothing left to nick. It was an empty space. I'm sure it's something else now, but I don't have the stomach to check. It'd be sad to find out it's another estate agent.
So there's a pleasing circularity - for me at least - in putting everything back together again somewhere else. In a time where the industry's path and fortunes are uncertain, it's nice to get in on the ground floor with a company that's still heading upward. The Foyles legacy is something to be proud of, and this way I get the best of both worlds. I'm a part of an entity 111 years old and growing, and also something entirely new.
If this all sounds a little starry-eyed and twee, don't worry. This mood won't last. I'm a glum so-and-so by temperament. In a few weeks time Monday morning will be Monday morning again; some of the magic will have rubbed off. The chandeliers will still be there, but I won't look up so often. But it'll never be just another space, never be just a place of work. I helped build it. I helped other people build it. It's theirs and it's ours and it's mine.
And it's yours, naturally. Please do come and be a part of it. If nothing else, we've got wicked chandeliers.
Top 10 bestsellers for Foyles' first week at London Waterloo
1 Penguin in Love by Salina Yoon
2 The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz
3 Stoner by John Williams
4 The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
5 Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
6 Poo Bum by Stephanie Blake
7 Such, Such Were the Joys by George Orwell
8 Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
9 The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak
10 River Cottage Handbook No.3: Bread by Daniel Stevens
Photographs © Jonathan Hordle/REX