CWA September Bookseller of the Month: Cogito Books, Hexham
Every month, as part of the new CWA Booksellers Champion initiative with bestselling author Elly Griffiths, we want to celebrate a bookshop because we believe bookshops don’t just sell our books – they bring our streets alive. This month, author and co-Bookselling Champion, Vaseem Khan, writes about Cogito Books in Hexham, run by Claire Grint.
Cogito Books is based in the rural market town of Hexham, in the beautiful county of Northumberland, home to castles and a nearby coastline. The town is located between Carlisle and Newcastle and is a gateway to Hadrian’s Wall and a must-visit for lovers of Roman history.
In May 2021, the bookshop celebrated its twentieth birthday.
Rewind two decades and Hexham didn’t have a bookshop. Noting this glaring absence, booklovers Alan and Julia Grint decided to do something about the situation, and set up the shop, finding instant support from the local community, so much so that, when, a year and a half later, they were forced to move to new premises – almost overnight – volunteers pitched up to help, passing books along a human chain to the new shop located a hundred metres further down the cobbled street.
Current owner Claire Grint once spent breaks from university helping out in the shop, before later taking over bookkeeping duties. She studied International Business – with French! – a grounding that has been immensely useful since she took over the bookshop in 2012.
Claire says: “Bookshops have to know what they stand for. In the last eighteen months, this has been particularly critical. Like most independents, we had to take on the challenge of continuing to trade during the pandemic. Our priority was talking directly to our customers, especially given the reduced social interaction imposed by the lockdowns. Every book we’ve sold this year has been a result of a conversation between the team – myself, Hilary MacCallum and Jenny Tattersall – and customers. We took phone calls and emails six days a week! Books were posted or hand delivered.”
Claire is passionate about preserving the high street. She made the decision not to create a transactional aspect to the shop’s website. Instead, Cogito Books prioritises relationships: “So many customers have become friends over the years that bookselling doesn’t feel like work!”
The shop is firmly embedded in the community. They host themed book parties, celebrate a cake-fuelled bookshop day inviting customers in to eat, read, and be merry; entertain school visits, and run three book groups – one for children, one for fiction, and one for crime fiction. Their author events are hugely popular, with highlights including a visit by authors Sarah Moss and Max Porter, and an evening with James Rebanks, the nature writer – a genre the shop champions.
Reflecting on the shop’s success, Claire says: ‘There is no single model to being an independent bookseller. Every bookshop has its own personality, based on those who work there, and the community within which the shop is located. Celebrating that diversity is our biggest strength.”
And in terms of unusual reader requests? Although she’s never had to source a tiger for a customer or a bootleg copy of the Codex of Leicester, Claire was once asked if she could somehow provide ‘another lifetime’, just so the customer in question could have enough time to read all the wonderful books she kept pressing into their hands. As unusual requests go, that’s one many bibliophiles might wish for.