5 mins with… Sophie Rowe from Hillsborough Bookshop

We caught up with Sophie Rowe, founder and owner of Hillsborough Bookshop, to talk about the experience of opening her first shop…

Hi Sophie. What inspired you to open your own bookshop?

There’s a real power in stories, and that’s something I wanted to share with my community. Feeling seen in a book is absolute magic, and to have the opportunity to create that space in my local area was my real driver.

Although you could argue it’s the worst possible time to try with the cost of living crisis and real uncertainty in the landscape, especially for small and new businesses, I am one for a challenge.

With my background and studies focusing on writing for children [Sophie holds a BA in Creative Writing and a masters in Writing for Young People], I’ve always felt very passionate about getting families reading and enjoying stories together.

Our free daily Storytime is my absolute favourite part of the day because it really makes the bookshop come alive. I’ve had parents who’ve met at Storytime become good friends and meet up regularly together with their children, and that to me is what it’s all about.

How did you get started?

The bookshop began as a tiny seed of an idea, which I planted in the form of two Billy bookcases into a shop on the high street [Annie Jude’s] to see how my books would sell. They did really well and gave me a real boost to think that one day I could actually have my very own shop on Middlewood Road.

I had my eye on number 89 for a while – a very traditional looking shop, with two floors and a classic bookshop feel – it even has the dreamy spiral staircase. When it came up for rent for the first time in 20+ years, it was a sure sign to me that now was the time to create this community hub on the high street and grow my idea into a reality.

Why did you decide to start in Hillsborough?

I’ve lived in Hillsborough since 2019 and since then it’s just got better and better. There is a real community of independents, which gave me such confidence in choosing to open the bookshop here.

Not only is the high street a constant hive of activity, but the other shops are so supportive of each other. Seeing people enjoying the high street is absolutely brilliant – so many people, all supporting their local independent shops.

We don’t want to compete with the big names, and the perk of being a much smaller shop with a curated selection means we don’t need to do so directly. Instead, we’re good at looking at our community and working with them to stock our shelves.

The bookshop deliberately specialises in a range of diverse, representative books because the aim has always been to make sure everyone in the community feels seen through the books I sell. That’s the USP.

It can sometimes be tough setting out on your own – how have you found the experience so far?

It’s probably both the hardest and easiest thing I’ve ever done. The easiest because I know my own mind, and once I’m set on something it’s very rare that I don’t go at it 100 per cent, which is why the bookshop is now a staple on the high street.

But the hardest too because of the realities that come with running a small business on your own. I know lots of people who dream of opening a bookshop, but the reality is far from how you imagine. I don’t sit and read books all day sadly – I’d absolutely love to, but instead I’m using my jack-of-all-trades experience working my many jobs to try and do this one very well.

I’ve had to sacrifice a lot, especially initially, but I’m of the belief that you will get out a lot more than you put in, so I feel it’s more than worth it.

I’ve already got a bunch of regulars who come in and support the shop, I’m taking sales both from the shop and online and also really value feedback and input from customers – it’s always lovely to hear that people love the shop, but I also love it when someone tells me I should be doing something I’m not and I’m like, yeah, why am I not doing that?

What are your plans for the future of the shop?

The shop space we have means there’s plenty of scope to grow as business continues. Currently we have books on our ground floor, with a selection of children’s fiction and nonfiction along with a smaller adult section. The long-term aim is to move into the upstairs space too, stocking a full adult section and creating a room which can be used for events and our Book Clubs, but also a space for local community groups and schools to use.

I’m working hard at the moment to build relationships with local schools, get a consistent calendar of author and illustrator events going, and maintain our adult Book Clubs, which we now have three of!

Head to Hillsborough Bookshop’s socials for more info.

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