Battle of the Bookshops: Bookthrift in Southwold

9th Sep 2011


Things are looking very thrifty in Southwold. North of Britten’s Aldeburgh, beyond the Blythburgh marshes this jewel of Suffolk’s coast has long been a magnet for artists and the literati, as has Walberswick on the facing shore. If you pay the local ferrywoman Dani Church, she’ll row you across the Blyth between the two.

But though the town often looks like a Boden photo-shoot with spotty-fleeced children skipping atop the sand dunes against picture perfect backdrop of sherbety beach huts, not even the weekenders slurping a chai from Munchies or the moneyed yummy mummies spied in the Fanny and Frank windows could keep the last bookshop standing.

This seaside enclave offers culture in spades but there’s clearly no longer space for Bookthrift on the Market Place, which has announced its closure next week. Manager Pamela O’Hara jumped at the chance of managing the shop with the closure of the The Orwell Bookshop in the High Street earlier this year. Bookshops have been her life’s passion, but it’s been curtailed by the sale of building’s lease.

She speaks with pride of her knack of selling history books and of the time when, faced with a delivery of lavishly illustrated sports books in German, she bundled them with free German dictionaries. And faster than Schumacher, out they sped!

Bookthrift always offered a fantastic selection of titles for children to huddle over in the bright, bay window. Last year I scooped up an armful of Emily Gravett and Oliver Jeffers for friends and family and a glut of fiction for myself.

Amazon’s prices had nothing on these and here I could sit and turn pages of a whole book prior to buying, grab some gorgeous retro seaside postcards to scribble and usually pick up something unexpected such as the Hello Kitty sunglasses I emerged with last Friday (not for me!).

Nobody need ever run out of beach reads while this emporium had its doors open. Whatever the weather the sizeable floor space was always peppered with bodies scanning the well-stocked shelves, the tables swelling with an eclectic mix indicative of the caring, personal touch.

In advance mourning of its closing next Tuesday, a loyal customer deposited a note in the window with a quote from American Gods. It said: “What I say is a town isn’t a town without a bookstore.”

After The Orwell Bookshop and Southwold Books in Pinkneys Lane, this is the last domino to fall. It’s hard to browse under striplights while being jostled by trollies and yes, Southwold Library is very quaint in a primary school-classroom way, but where will the town’s bookworms browse now?

Reb Smeaton