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A chapter ends: Farewell to Amwell

Reading habits rather than rates are closing our much-loved bookshops, writes James Pallister

Charlotte Robinson set up her secondhand bookshop on Amwell Street, London in 2001. It closes at the end of this month, when the shutters are locked up on the black and blue painted fascias for the last time. It’s one of at least six bookshops closing this month, including The Harbour Bookshop in Dartmouth after 60 years, The Travel Bookshop in Notting Hill and The Derwent Bookshop in Cumbria after 50.

Amwell Street runs between Rosebery Avenue and Pentonville Road. At the south there’s Exmouth Market, Sadler’s Wells and, further down into Clerkenwell, the legion of architecture offices that now populate the area. To the north there’s Chapel Market and the less glamorous parts of Angel.

The AJ used to be based nearby and I remember Amwell Street served the staff well. You could call through a sandwich order from the office and pick it up from Middleton’s Deli; Amwell’s specialised in art, photography and architecture books – which was handy, and Filthy McNasty’s was a Friday evening sort of pub.

Before Amwell Street, Charlotte had a shop in Soho, which the nineties recession, rising costs and falling incomes did for. Charlotte says the latest spate of bookshop closures relates to something more fundamental than the oft-quoted increase in online book buying. ‘What we’re experiencing now is quite different.

The sheer speed of change in peoples’ reading and knowledge acquisition habits is incredible.’ When even hardened music-lovers lose their vinyl and CDs in favour of flash memory drives that gather 20-years worth of music, you can see her point. The physicality and bulk of books may lose their hold in a digital world.

While you still have the chance, get down to Amwell’s to pick up a bargain, show some support for our ailing high street and buck the trend away from extended reading. Ironically – or appropriately – The Amwell Book Company will continue to live online. After all, if you’ve survived for 30 years in bookselling, then you’ve probably learned how to embrace the internet.

The Amwell Book Company, 53 Amwell Street, London EC1 www.amwellbookcompany.co.uk

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