Cool customers – Alison Healy on one way to boost a business

Battered sausage? Step this way, Colin Farrell

The woman in the bookshop was flicking through a newly released cookbook when she drew my attention. She was noting certain recipes and loudly declaring to her male companion that she would look up the recipes online when she got home. Then they left without buying anything.

The forlorn bookseller was within earshot during the monologue and remained heroically silent.

I thought of her a few weeks later when I had the most unusual experience of queueing to get into a bookshop. And paying €5 for the pleasure of it. What hallowed place is this, that harried bookseller might ask. And when can we start charging customers an entrance fee, especially the annoying ones?

The Livraria Lello bookshop is in Porto, Portugal, and I was queuing with dozens of others because I had read that it was one of the world’s most beautiful bookshops. And indeed it is, with its stunning staircase and stained-glass windows.


Some of my fellow queuers were young and very enthusiastic about the shop. When I finally went through the doors and saw the corner dedicated to Harry Potter books, I discovered why. At some stage, someone claimed that the beautifully ornate bookshop had been an inspiration for JK Rowling when she created the Hogwarts school.

Many years ago, the budding writer spent some time teaching English in Porto, so it seemed plausible. However, it has since emerged that she didn’t know about the shop when she lived there and had never visited it. In fact, the bookshop has an open letter on its website, inviting the author to visit, a fact that must have escaped the legions of Harry Potter fans who made the pilgrimage. But hey, they are all paying to get into the shop so everyone’s a winner.

Of course, the bookshop didn’t start this rumour, but it would make you wonder if struggling businesses shouldn’t do just that?

For example, WB Yeats was a great man for the occult so if your shop sells curios involving the mystical arts, why not casually mention that Yeats bought all his Ouija boards there? After all, he’s hardly going to come back from the dead to contradict you. Well, not if you keep the Ouija boards out of his way.

Are you trying to sell a decrepit, disused warehouse with a few big bins, in a relentlessly depressing place where nothing happens, and no one ever arrives? Start a rumour that your warehouse inspired Samuel Beckett when he was looking for a setting for his plays. And then wait for a rich American literary enthusiast to offer you millions for it.

Rumours can be more believable if they contain extremely specific details. If I ran a chip shop, I would strongly imply that Colin Farrell cannot live without my battered sausage. Now, that is believable because there are many anecdotes involving Colin Farrell enthusing about food.

Recently on Twitter, the actor Chelsea Pope wrote that the Dublin actor was the nicest celebrity she had ever served at 3am in Fred 62, a LA diner. For the record, he ordered a tuna melt and used an expletive to stress just how good the accompanying chips were. Although he called them “fries” rather than chips, to fit in with the hip LA crowd.

Her Twitter feed quickly filled with stories of extremely pleasant encounters with the affable actor. He helped someone who was lifting weights in the gym. He winked at someone in a petrol station. When he was in Toronto and a radio station offered $2,000 to anyone who brought the actor into the studio, he found a homeless man and took him to the station to claim the prize. Four years later, he brought the same man shopping for weather-proof clothes and boots.

He also accidentally caused a bicycle to malfunction when he was filming The Banshees of Inisherin in Achill. He was out for a run, wearing very short mint-green shorts, when a female cyclist encountered him. She was so startled that she fell off her bicycle.

An eagle-eyed resident noted that quite a few local women coincidentally took up running when the very short mint-green shorts appeared. Nothing suspicious about that at all.

A bookseller told how Colin Farrell’s son was looking for a certain book, but it wasn’t in stock, so he started apologising profusely. The actor graciously batted away his apologies and gently said: “Worse things in the world, friend”.

Now that’s the sort of customer any harried book seller would welcome. No ¤5 entrance fee needed for Colin Farrell. You’d almost pay him to come into your shop.