Third time lucky for The Highland Bookshop?

'The past two years have seen independent bookshops completely transform their operational models in order to get books into the hands of readers,' said the British Book Awards, which put Fort William's Highland Bookshop into the finals for the 2022 Independent Bookshop of the Year. Pictured: Kelsey Ward, the Highland Bookshop's assistant manager and second-hand book dealer, selling books at the door during lockdown.

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Fort William’s Highland Bookshop has reached the finals of the 2022 British Book Awards Independent Bookshop of the Year.

The awards, known as the ‘Nibbies’ and run by The Bookseller magazine, ‘celebrate those stores that have continued to support communities with magnificent books, which have provided enjoyment, distraction and succour for readers during these turbulent times’.

Overcoming high street disruptions and lockdowns, 62 bookshops are competing to be Independent Bookshop of the Year. The shops will compete to win their region first, before vying for the overall prize, to be presented at a ceremony on May 23.

The Highland Bookshop’s manager Sarah-Louise Bamblett said: ‘To say we are delighted would be an understatement and we are doubly happy to see our Highland friends at The Bookmark in Grantown on Spey also on the list.

‘This is the third time we have made it to the regional finals and it is just as exciting as the first. The finalists are always such brilliant shops, so to win this award against such stiff competition would be incredible.

‘People love browsing an independent bookshop. They know every book is hand picked by us, not by someone in an office in a city far away.

‘We opened in July 2017 and employ five staff. We hope we are a hub for the community. Our aim is to have ‘a book for everyone’ so we stock a diverse and ever growing range of titles.

‘We have more than 7,000 books in the shop and are also kept busy with customer orders for books we don’t normally stock. This is so important to us as we know people are one click away from ordering a book on Amazon, but they are happy to wait a few days for us to get it in.

‘We really do try to give back to the community if we can, with raffle prizes, fundraising for the Food Bank and sponsoring poetry prizes. In previous years, and again this year, we post out around 500 World Book Day books to remote schools in the Highlands and Islands who wouldn’t usually have access to the scheme. We buy the books and pay the postage. We have 19 schools on our list this year  – World Book Day is on March 3.

‘The pandemic has affected everything in different ways and we adapted along with everyone else. At the beginning of the first lockdown, we asked our customers if they would like a daily phone call from one of the staff, just a hello, as it was a frightening time and the anticipated isolation was a worry.

‘At the end of the first lockdown, we started home deliveries and sold books at the door of the shop. This involved moving as many bookcases into the windows as possible, then stacking them with books. It definitely brought new meaning to the term ‘window shopping’. We also set up a new website and offered private shopping sessions.

‘2021 was our busiest year ever, with so many UK-based visitors spending their holidays here, and we have no doubt the town will be busy again.’

NO_F08_Highland Bookshop in Book Award finals_01_Lockdown door sales_Kelsey Ward

Kelsey Ward, The Highland Bookshop’s assistant manager and second-hand book dealer, selling books at the door during lockdown.