Gig Review: Reopening of Toppings Bookshop in Bath

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“After 14 happy years on the Paragon, this weekend is our final one in our familiar spot before we set up shop in York Street next to the Abbey. Tuesday 26th is officially the last day we will be open on the Paragon, and our new York Street bookshop will open at 10.30am on Saturday 30th October.”

Toppings Bookshop on the Paragon is no more. The warm and welcoming warren where I have attended many cosy literary events closed its doors before I could revisit after lockdown. However, the bookshop has not gone! Rather, it has moved down the hill and reopened by the Abbey, in a former Friends Meeting House – how appropriate. It is now rather grand.

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Last Saturday, Robyn and I took the train to Bath on what was described as ‘soft launch’ day to see what Toppings has become. Behind the familiar blue doors, it is impressive. Rather than the welcoming cups of tea in the usual dotty mugs, we were handed glasses of fizz. There were a pleasing number of customers browsing the stacks.

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Moving an entire bookshop in just a few days is no mean feat so kudos to the hard working staff for making the new premises look so well stocked and appealing. There were still a few spaces to fill high up, and boxes left in some of the nooks and crannies we peeked into. On the shelves, though, were many temptations.

Robyn was particularly impressed with the room given over entirely to fantasy and sci-fi. I overheard one customer cooing over the crime fiction room. I was pleased to find treasures from many of my beloved independent publishers. I was also happy to note that the ladders were still being employed.

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The back room at the Paragon housed many fine books relating to art, and these are now shelved on the mezzanine level. Here, as elsewhere, are tables and chairs. When staff are less busy answering customer queries, and tea in dotty cups is reinstated, there will be somewhere pleasant to sit and contemplate potential purchases. Or maybe the seating is provided for students and writers to work while surrounded by such an inspiring environment. 

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I enjoyed browsing the tables on the ground floor, seeing what books the staff had selected for these. I also noted they could easily be moved for events, offering a large space for seating attendees. No more peering around stacks when an author proves popular as at the old premises. I suspect the bookshop will not have to hire larger venues as often as previously.

I posted a selection of these photographs on Twitter and was asked about access for those with mobility issues. This was such a valid question I emailed the shop for details. They replied promptly to confirm the existence of a lift system – an outdoors lift that can be used to reach the shop entry level; a lift can also take customers up to the mezzanine. Customer bathrooms are available on the lower level that are accessible via lift and ramp. I hope this helps inform those who would find the many steps I have shown a barrier.

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Obviously we chose to support this new venture with purchases. So, what was in the bag? I hear you ask.

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Having so much enjoyed Dead Relatives by Lucie McKnight Hardy, I had to have her debut. And having read so many glowing reviews from fellow readers of the Mathias Énard, it somehow jumped into my bag too. Never let it be said that book bloggers don’t encourage sales, including to themselves.

Toppings in Bath is open 8.30am to 9pm, 7 days a week and hosts many fine events. It is well worth checking out: online  and now in York Street by the Abbey.

Independent Bookshop Week 2019 – featuring #TheBristolBag

A number of weeks ago I was sent a tote bag depicting iconic Bristol landmarks in colourful artwork. Doesn’t it look gorgeous? In exchange I was asked to write about its design and functionality. I decided that, in order to do this, I needed to travel to the city and test it on location. The best way to test a tote bag is to fill it with books.

This week is Independent Bookshop Week – what better time to carry out my plan. On Wednesday afternoon I caught the train to Bristol intending to explore some of the city’s independent bookshops – previously I had only visited Waterstones and Foyles. A quick search in Google showed that other bookshops existed, although some were a little too far from the centre and spread out from each other for me to visit on foot in the time available.

Walking from Temple Meads Station to the harbour and then through Queen Square, I made my way up Park Street where I hoped to find the Last Bookshop. What a treasure trove it turned out to be.

 

Having browsed the shelves I struggled to limit my purchases – I will definitely be returning to this bookshop. My tote bag was now being put to good use and coping well with the added weight. It is constructed from good quality cotton canvas and has comfortable shoulder straps, easily taking my raincoat and new books.

I checked my phone for directions before making my way to the next independent bookshop Google had located.

 

Bloom and Curll is a small and eclectic bookshop featuring packed shelves, double packed in places, and tottering piles of both old and new titles. There was plenty to tempt me. I was even offered Jaffa cakes by the proprietor to keep me going while I made my selections.

 

What books did I buy on my day out, I hear you ask.

The top four are for myself and the bottom for my daughter – her reward for accompanying me. I did not come across any titles from my beloved independent publishers, but each of my purchases have been on my radar for quite a while.

Now I just have to find time to read them before my ever growing TBR pile falls over and inflicts serious damage.

 

The Bristol Bag was designed by a Bradford on Avon based company, Overt Design, who have created colourful tote bags featuring iconic landmarks for five local locations.