As the book trade continues to face difficult times it appears that Scotland has something to celebrate. A new and fiercely independent LGBT shop opened in Glasgow towards the end of 2018 – Category is Books in Allison Street – and more new independent and chain openings are rumoured and planned for 2019 and 2020: a new independent in Portobello this Spring – perhaps; at least one new Waterstones in Edinburgh in the coming months – in a new retail development in Stockbridge; and a move for Waterstones Aberdeen from Union Street to Bon Accord shopping centre. We are all celebrating in anticipation… but better than rumours we now have concrete confirmation of a brand new bookshop to open in the heart of Edinburgh in the Summer of this year. Drum roll required.
The new shop will be the latest under the Topping name, owned and run by the Topping family. Robert and Louise Topping started with a shop in Ely, Cambridgeshire 16 years ago and then went on to open a very successful shop in Bath 11 years ago, under the management of Saber Khan. Almost four years ago they ventured north and opened a shop in St Andrews – much loved by locals and students alike with its log burning stove and floor to ceiling oak shelving. But it is much more than the layout of the shop and the fine selection of books that make these bookshops successful, destination-retail-experiences – to use all of the current jargon. They employ the very best booksellers, as anyone who has travelled to St Andrews and had a conversation with Duncan Furness will know (and Duncan will head up the new store in Edinburgh along with Robert and Louise’s son and daughter, Hugh and Cornelia). No cafes for them, they prefer the more homely approach offering a cup of tea or coffee from a tray as you browse. Robert Topping does his homework and picks his sites with great care. And they all work incredibly hard with a huge list of events pulling in big name authors and welcoming book readers and buyers alike. Authors enjoy their hospitality and friendship but also their marketing know-how. They promote their events well, get to know their local customer and wrap their first editions with great care in a clear wrapper which protects and enhances the books on their shelves and on the shelves in your own home when you buy them. Their bookshops are, in short, a delight and this writer has yet to visit any of the Topping branches and leave without spending much more than intended.
The family are taking on a big site in Edinburgh – with space for 70,000 books. The former Royal Bank of Scotland site is situated at the end of London Road, just as it meets the roundabout at the top of Leith Walk. Already a destination area for visitors to the Playhouse Theatre and that much loved Edinburgh institution, the Valvona and Crolla delicatessen, and of course the perfectly-formed Typewronger Books
(a newcomer in 2018 which sits alongside McNaughtons antiquarian books), the area will be further enhanced with the completion of the new St James Centre in due course. The Toppings plan to open their new shop in the Summer of this year.
Robert Topping was a manager with Waterstone’s in Deansgate in Manchester for 16 years (yes – when they still had an apostrophe in the name) before being asked leave in 2000 for refusing to drastically reduce the number of books in his store and concentrate solely on bestsellers. His departure led to an outcry across the trade. While there he was well known for offering 300+ events in the store every year, and for knowing his staff and his customers well. He carried this strong events programme with him when he opened his first store in Ely and we can look forward to a robust programme when he opens in Edinburgh later this Summer.