Bookseller of the Month: Griffin Books, Penarth
The CWA’s Bookseller of the Month for December is Griffin Books in Penarth.
Griffin Books in Penarth is one of those shops writers love to be invited to. It’s run by the amazing Mel Griffin who bought the shop nine years ago and turned it into a real community hub – with brilliantly run book events.
What inspired you to buy the bookshop in the first place?
As a teenager I had a Saturday job in my local bookshop and absolutely loved it. I always dreamed of having my own bookshop some day, but never thought it would become a reality. After a 30-year career in corporate IT, I decided that life’s too short to do just one thing your whole life, and suddenly the bookshop idea came flooding back. I had an initial discussion with the then owners of the shop, who were already thinking about retirement, spent a couple of years sorting out my finances and learning the ropes (as their Saturday girl!), and finally got the keys to my very own bookshop on 1st September 2014.
What did you know about bookselling when you bought it – and what do you wish you’d known!?
Honestly, very little! My experience from my teenage years was frankly not very relevant – in those days there were no computers, of course; books were looked up on microfiche catalogues, and orders were sent through the post and the books received at least a week later.
What I wish I’d known is you can’t be all things to all people – the beauty of a small indie bookshop is that the range of stock you choose is absolutely unique to you, and that’s what customers value and appreciate. Oh – and also that there’s not enough time for reading! So I rely enormously on feedback from customers, friends and family as well as media reviews in my buying decisions and in recommending books to customers.
A key to your success is your amazing calendar of events. Do you remember the first you put on?
Honestly, no! In the early days though they were mostly small scale events with local authors in the shop itself. We must have run hundreds of events over the years, and that side of the business has definitely grown enormously over that time. We’ve become bolder in our pitches, and now host events in large scale venues in Cardiff as well as smaller places in and around Penarth.
What are your fondest memories of events you’ve put on?
We love our ‘crime and cream tea’ events which go down very well with local customers! And we had a lovely one with Vaseem Khan whose crime novels are set in Mumbai, with an Indian-themed light lunch to go with it. When it comes to larger scale events, we enjoyed hosting Ann Cleeves as she embarked on her new detective series set in North Devon. But equally, we like hosting the smaller scale events with debut authors, and then to watch their writing take off!
Are there any local crime writers whose work should be more widely celebrated?
We are big fans of Katherine Stansfield and Alis Hawkins, both writers based in Wales who write strong historical crime series! On the more contemporary side we love Belinda Bauer and were so pleased when her novel Snap was Booker longlisted.
Lockdown proved how valuable books were, but was it a particular challenge for you?
Clearly lockdown was a challenge for all local businesses, but myself and my team just threw ourselves into it with determination to make the best of it! We quickly set up an online shop (something we’d been meaning to do for some time), moved all our events and bookclubs online, and set up the team to work from home. We found ourselves delivering books to customers all over the local area and making daily trips to the post office with many more book packages! Thankfully, we’ve been able to not only survive but thrive during the past eighteen months or so, and were absolutely thrilled to have this recognised when we were awarded Welsh Independent Bookshop of the Year for 2021.
What’s special about being a bookshop in Penarth?
Everything! I can honestly say that, 7 years in, I still genuinely look forward to coming to work every day. We love the relationships we forge with our regular local customers, but equally getting to know newcomers to the area and meeting the many visitors to our seaside town.
On a final note, can I encourage everyone to continue supporting their local independent businesses in general, and bookshops in particular – it’s a cliche I know but ‘use it or lose it’ is the stark reality for us all, and we really want to be here to serve our customers and our communities for decades to come!
Griffin Books, 9A Windsor Rd, Penarth CF64 1JB
029 2070 6455