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The making of an in-store promotion

4th November 2015 - George Hamilton-Jones


Many of the ideas for the displays in our shops originate with booksellers, who develop in-depth knowledge of the sections where they work. Displays are a chance to put together interesting books and create conversation pieces. George Hamilton-Jones, one of the Charing Cross Road team in our Lifestyle section covering sport, travel, cookery and craft – reveals the thinking behind the current display he's put together.



Prohibition, the United States’ so-called 'Noble Experiment', struck me as an excellent theme for an in-store display. I was drawn by both the glamour of the period which has inspired so many approaches across various media, and by the images of vast quantities of booze being poured down the drain we can see in period newspapers. Establishing the framework for the Federal Government's alcohol ban, the Volstead Act was passed on the 28th October 1919 and stood for the next 13 years.


Why Prohibition?

Prohibition features in quite a few books about spirits and cocktails. It is ultimately unavoidable in any discussion of how the American taste in alcohol has developed over time. In fact, it transcends the question of alcohol and reveals both divisions in the United States and contradictions in the American character. In 1931, the famous columnist Walter Lipmann wrote, 'The high level of lawlessness is maintained by the fact that Americans desire to do so many things which they also desire to prohibit.' It might strike some as strange to do a historically themed display in the Lifestyle department but my experience of working with wine and drinks books has served to highlight just how conversant they can be with traditional modes of production and the development of national drinking cultures.


Modern Speakeasies

Some of the titles we chose are clearly focused on Prohibition. The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan and Speakeasy by Jason Kosmas and Dushan Zaric are both recipe driven books. The design of the books reflects the clandestine experience offered by the bars where they were born. Both books present recipes from modern speakeasies that evoke the genuine subterfuges of the past within their walls. This is something that I experienced in New York City last year in a bar called the Blind Barber, aptly concealed behind a barbershop. PDT, of the same city, lacks a traditional entrance from the street and relies upon something more creative.


Inspiration Comes from the Books

One of the titles that most inspired this display was Lost Recipes of Prohibition: Notes from a Bootlegger’s Manual by Matthew Rowley, which is a fascinating looking book. It details recipes based upon by those used by bootleggers to make their often dirty or somewhat poisonous spirits more palatable. Of course, you should use clean alcohols for his recipes.


Secret Ingredients

While it is fun to pretend, the ultimate criterion is quality.  We sought to gather together books that would show ways for a bartender or anyone else to set their drinks apart. Drinking in the Devil’s Acre by Duncan McDonnell is a prime example of this. Part history, it depicts the vibrant and sometimes dangerous saloon bar scene of old San Francisco—what Prohibition sought to stamp out. It also contains a selection of blended spirits recipes and other ingredient preparations. Handcrafted Cocktails by Molly Wellmann is another such collection and features a really interesting selection of infused sprits ideas. So some of the books focus less on the period we chose, but I’m confident that we have chosen books which have broadly applicable ideas.


Every display is ultimately different and logistics and book availability obviously plays a large part. We have to offer choices, so things can’t be forced too far or the choice will suffer as content narrows in scope. Often the best theme is one that unites many disparate books from across the store; you'll usually find at least one table like that in the Atrium. But equally, as I hope this display will show, it is possible to take books from just one or two categories and group them together with a genuine sense of theatre and interest in a significant historical moment.


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