Dublin’s Gutter Bookshop wins prize at British Book Awards
Independent retailer with branches in Temple Bar and Dalkey recognised at ceremony in London
Bob Johnston at the Gutter Bookshop on Cow’s Lane Temple Bar. Dublin. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Oscar Wilde’s aphorism, from which The Gutter Bookshop derives its name, is displayed proudly in the window of the bright, airy shop on the corner of Cow’s Lane in Dublin’s Temple Bar.
Sun streams through the glass spilling onto the “Must-Reads for May” section (Lisa McInerney’s The Blood Miracles and Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be The Place figure prominently).
The shop, along with its sister premises on Railway Road in Dalkey, has just been named Independent Bookshop of the Year (UK and Ireland) at the 2017 British Book Awards. It is the first time an Irish bookshop has won the award, which was announced at a ceremony on Monday evening in central London. Proprietor Bob Johnston received a cheque for £5,000 (€5,946), which will be invested in the day-to-day running of the shop or in potential improvements.
“It was a really good shortlist of really good shops and we didn’t expect to win,” says Johnston, who opened on Cow’s Lane in 2009 and in Dalkey four years later. He puts the win down to “a bit of luck, a hell of a lot of hard work and a good team who love books”.
When he left his buying job with booksellers Hughes & Hughes, he says, everyone thought he was crazy. The received wisdom was that physical bookshops were on the way out. “Everyone was going to be buying online or using e-readers. But that’s all fine, as long as there are still enough people who want to buy books in a shop.”
Part of the community
The Dalkey shop started off as a Christmas pop-up, he says, and has grown from nothing to become a popular part of the local community.
Independent bookshops have had to expand their activities in order to survive and prosper. The Gutter includes non-book stock such as children’s puppets and tote bags. You can pick up a Mrs Dalloway or Great Gatsby T-shirt. And the premises is a hub for events from book launches to readings and festival events.
“If you come in here at half one in the afternoon during the week, you might think it’s very quiet,” says Johnston. “But then at six o’clock there could be a hundred people.” He points out that this is true of all bookshops, big and small. “You’ll see the same in Hodges Figgis and Dubray.”
It took a long time for this part of Temple Bar to come to life following its re-development at the end of the economic boom, but the area around Cow’s Lane is now lively, although there isn’t as much passing traffic as in the main shopping districts.
For Johnson, though, the recession was a blessing. “You couldn’t get anything that wasn’t stupid money. What surprised me was we didn’t just have tourists coming in. We had lots of people and families who are living in the area. It’s a lovely part of town.”