In this seventh instalment of Repeater’s short guide to radical independent bookshops, we spoke to Lee, Bookseller at Printed Matter Bookshop in Hastings.
What is your origin story?
During the many years of working in the homelessness field since my early 20s, I developed the idea of opening a radical bookshop, frequenting many myself and running stalls at both gigs and the annual London Anarchist Bookfair. As Hastings didn’t have a radical bookshop and my partner and I had decided to move here, I took a punt on opening one in 2017. I still work in homelessness to get an income and run the shop part-time from Thursday to Saturday.
What is the mission of Printed Matter Bookshop? Do you have a particular set of values?
The shop was set up to provide interesting books on a variety of subjects that you don’t see in many shops. I didn’t just want to sell the “bestsellers”; I wanted to choose books that make people think, learn new things and expand their range of thinking and knowledge.
Do you specialise in specific titles or genres? How do you decide what to buy-in and sell?
Yes, I stock many books on social history, black culture, current affairs and alternative economics. I have read some of the books myself over the last 30 years, but others are suggestions from other people and ones that I’d like to read when I find the time. I enjoy books on subcultures and aim to provide both books and music on a variety of these. As someone who enjoys playing records, I also share the shop with second-hand record sellers, based in the shop’s basement, and sell new reissues of early reggae, soul, 60s R&B and jazz.
Without the support of the community, Printed Matter Bookshop would simply close like many others.
Do you ever host events and, if so, what do you have lined up?
I’ve hosted lots of book events over the past four years, provided book stalls at talks and run a radical book club. When the lockdown hit I ceased the events but I am slowly starting the book club and events back up again. No more events are confirmed as yet but I have a couple in the pipeline over the next few months.
How do you develop a relationship with the local community in Hastings? Do you have regular customers?
I chat with local folk who come into the shop, finding out what their interests are and what books they like to read. They then in turn attend the book club and events that I run. Some of these customers have become my friends. I have a core of regular customers who prefer for me to order their books rather than buy online. I also have some occasional regulars and a few who don’t use the internet at all; I assist them all with books, music and films.
Without the support of the community, Printed Matter Bookshop would simply close like many others. People will come in just for a chat sometimes as they feel that they can talk to me; sometimes it’s nice to be that listening person who will chat to someone over a coffee.
Why do you think independent bookshops like Printed Matter Bookshop are important?
Independent bookshops are important because they fight back against a monopoly power like Amazon, a company which would take control of all aspects of our lives if allowed. A short sentence by Chomsky in the 90’s has always resonated with me; “Beware the power of private tyranny”.
Independent shops can offer an alternative cultural and economic presence in towns and give people a reason to visit other areas in order to find interesting shops. There would be nothing worse than visiting towns across the country that contain the same chain stories and look identical, also lacking decent shops because the community has boycotted them to shop online and thus take part in their own decline.
How would you summarize Printed Matter Bookshop and your work in 3 words?
Hastings’ Cultural Hub.
You can find out more about Printed Matter Bookshop by clicking here.
Interview by Immy Higgins.
Featured image credit: Printed Matter Bookshop