Latest chapter added to the story of St Boswells book store success

FOUR years ago Bill and Ros de la Hey decided to follow their dream, but it was one that had friends and family seriously worried that what the couple actually needed was a trip to the psychiatrist’s couch.

For that dream was to open a traditional bookshop, even though it came as e-book readers such as Amazon’s Kindle were creating a revolution among the book-buying public.

Four years on and the electronic reading and retailing boom has done nothing to stop the doomsayers continuing with their gloomy predictions of the death of the printed book and, along with it, the demise of the accompanying traditional bookshop as we know it.

But Ros and Bill’s dream is not only still alive, but thriving and expanding, such is their faith in the magic of traditional books and bookshops.

The latest demonstration of that came last week when celebrity chef Tom Kitchin took time out of his busy schedule to visit their Mainstreet Trading Company, in the heart of St Boswells, and officially open the business’s new deli and homeware section.

This significant investment now joins the bookshop, café and antiques departments, plus a growing events programme, that have built up a loyal and growing customer base.

If anyone knows about books, it’s Ros. She spent more than 15 years in the commercial book world, the majority with Bloomsbury Publishing.

A former portrait photographer based in London, Bill turned a lifelong love of cooking into his new profession, lending the Mainstreet menu a decidedly special flavour all of its own.

But the real key to the couple’s success is the unique atmosphere they and their staff of eight have created at Mainstreet Trading, a former antiques saleroom, where the whole experience of buying a book has been made special.

And that’s not just conjecture. The business has won a number of major awards, such as the independent bookseller of the year 2012 and the Daily Telegraph’s much-coveted accolade of best bookshop 2012.

However, while the elements of the business, such as the new deli, all have an integral part in the enterprise’s continued success, the bookshop remains its beating heart, with tens of thousands of volumes sold each year.

“It has been a busy year,” Ros, a member of the Booksellers’ Association council, told TheSouthern during a brief break in this week’s Christmas build-up.

“And now, the deli and homeware section have been open for a week, and are going well.”

The investment in these new sections represents Ros and Bill’s confidence in the business’s long-term future.

They spent 18 months going through the Scottish Rural Development Programme grants process in the hope of obtaining funding for the expansion, only to be offficially knocked back last 
week.

“Luckily, we’d decided a while ago we couldn’t afford to wait and maybe miss the Christmas trading period, so we cut our ambitions by half to what we could afford to do and went for it ourselves,” explained Bill.

Ros added: “We’ll do it all over five years instead, which in some ways is more appropriate, as a business growing organically has something to be said for it.

“It means everything we are doing here is off the strength of the business – we live and die by what we do as a team and that is a big part of what we do here.”

In fact, that team of 10 – which includes Bill and Ros – is being bolstered for the festive season by the hiring of another two seasonal employees this week.

When the couple begin the next stage of the development, it will see an internet element brought into the Mainstreet Trading brand.

“It will be selling, but it won’t be an online bookshop as that would be suicidal,” said Ros.

Bill explained: “When we started, we thought the business would have to be either a very big bookshop or a bookshop and cafe.

“But the Mainstreet Trading Company name got us thinking it did not have to be just one type of business, but could be a destination-type thing with a cluster of offerings and the internet part will fall into that.”

Ros added: “The idea is for it to reflect the experience of being in the shop whether for books, food or homeware, but it can’t be just about sticking a whole lot of books on the internet – we can’t compete with that.

“Where we do compete is not on price, but on experience and things like destination, customer service and attention to details.

“We have a lot of elements here, including author events, and we now have a sense of building a community, if you like, of customers who like being part of the whole Mainstreet Trading thing.”

Ros revealed that Mainstreet Trading would probably move into selling electronic readers midway through next year, in order to give their customers what they want.

“I might have a sly smile when I hear of someone dropping their Kindle in the bath, but we will start selling those at some point, simply because we have to move with times too.

“But I think the death of the book is very overstated and there’s no need to be alarmist.”

Asked if being surrounded by books would ever entice either of them to pen one themselves, Ros was adamant.

“Good God no! – I can’t think of anything worse. I have a conviction you should only write a book if you can’t not. It’s certainly not for everyone.”

However, while there might not be a book in everyone, it would at least seem there is a book for everyone at Mainstreet Trading, and a lot more besides.