Big is best. Globalisation is the future. Online over High Street. Thus speaks the zeitgeist before it invariably fades away. That it does can be no surprise; as C. S. Lewis once said, what is not eternal, is eternally out of date.
He was talking about matters of religion; this post is concerned with something more modest but still very important. A bookshop. A small, three* room bookshop in London’s Mayfair. It is called
Heywood Hill Ltd. The blue plaque outside tells you that Nancy Mitford once lived there. I know it as Patrick Leigh Fermor’s favourite bookshop.
However one comes to Heywood Hill’s, stepping into the shop is like stepping into someone’s living room. I’m sure the friendly staff would offer customers a cup of tea, only, the tables – like the shelves – are overflowing with books. The second room doubles as the staff office. I admit, on my first visit, I stopped suddenly in the doorway as I thought I had entered a staff-only area.
Why is a shop like Heywood Hill worth visiting? It’s true, Amazon is very cheap, but shopping online is a graveyard to the senses compared to actually going shopping. And while larger retailers may offer more variety, they can also offer less personally and less personality.
By contrast, in its small size, the friendliness of the staff, and even its history, Heywood Hill meets the customer face-to-face; in so doing, the shop teaches us an eternal truth about Mankind, namely, that we are creatures who are made for intimacy. That is how we put down roots; that is how we grow. Long may Heywood Hill, and other shops like it, be given the opportunity to remind us of this fact!
* the third room, not mentioned above, is downstairs, where I have not yet been. It might be a cavern, though I doubt it