In this fourteenth and final instalment of Repeater’s short guide to radical independent bookshops, we spoke to John, Owner of Dreadnought Books in Bristol.
What is your origin story? Is there an inspiration/meaning behind the name?
I began selling second hand books online because I couldn’t get a job. I knew it was potentially a viable way to make an income as my dad had been a second-hand bookseller. This also gave me invaluable insight into the workings of the trade. The name was chosen as an allusion to the early 20th Century newspaper Workers’ Dreadnought. I moved to the shop we currently occupy in Bristol after a couple of years, primarily as I was looking to move out from my parents’ house.
What is the mission of Dreadnought Books? Do you have a particular set of values?
We don’t have a mission but I appreciate what it affords me in terms of access to interesting and unusual titles. Plus, it keeps me from having to work for anyone else. What we do is ever evolving, most substantially in recent months because we took the forced lockdown closures as an opportunity to redesign the space and opened out a comfier, cosier section of the shop. We are hopeful that it will make the space more inviting to a wider range of people.
Do you specialise in specific titles or genres? How do you decide what you stock and sell?
As a second-hand bookshop we are largely subject to what comes through the shop door. People bring in all sorts of stuff and we also get called out to view and clear private and institution libraries. We always try and be somewhat discerning as to the quality of the stock we take in and have particular areas in which we are keen to buy: occult, counter culture, left wing politics, history. However, we always have a fair bit of other stuff too.
How do you develop a relationship with the local Bristol community? Do you have regular customers?
We have a good number of local regulars, from teachers (and some students) from the college up the road to drinkers in the pubs next door and round the corner. We also acknowledge a perceived (and sadly often realised) elitism to bookshops and book culture. This can be a barrier to engagement with the space for some and do what we can to not perpetuate this.
Do you ever host events, or collaborate with other businesses? If so, do you have anything lined up?
Not currently. We are friends with another Bristol second-hand bookshop Bloom & Curll and support each other whenever we can. They host events from time to time.
Bristol is becoming an increasingly gentrified location – what are your thoughts on this? Does it pose a threat to independent businesses such as yours?
We lost Hydra books in the last few years, a cooperative-run radical bookshop. Hidden Corner café and bookshop in St Pauls is currently under threat. There is no doubt that rapidly increasing rents are adversely affecting local residents and small businesses. In recent lease negotiations we initially faced a proposed doubling of the rent. We have thankfully fought back on this and arrived at a manageable increase, but we are helped by being council tenants; those letting from private landlords are facing a considerably greater battle.
How would you summarize Dreadnought Books and its work in 3 words?
You can find out more about Dreadnought Books by clicking here.
Interview by Immy Higgins.
Featured image credit: Dreadnought Books