How did it all start?

Here is an article about the shop written by James Smith, one of the volunteers

What happens to the many old buildings the Methodist church finds itself in the unfortunate position of having to shed? Some of course are sold and in a sense disappear, but others are retained and put to good use. One quite inconspicuous structure on Hassall Road in Alsager was some time ago filled with books. More than 20,000 diverse volumes were crammed into mismatched bookcases, stacked almost to the ceiling. It looked rather like a second-hand bookshop and so it became.

The prevailing socioeconomic reality deprives somewhere like Alsager – a village whose population has grown beyond 10,000 – of a bookshop. To the west we have South Cheshire’s major town, Crewe, with a Waterstones and a WH Smith, and to the east the city of Stoke-on-Trent, whose independent bookshop closed earlier this year. In the 21st century Alsager’s positioning is a recipe for a literary wilderness, but this magnificent re-appropriation of a cast off chapel makes Alsager almost the opposite, at least on Fridays and Saturdays. Like a charity shop, the immodestly named Book Emporium is a dependable source of cheap copies (50p for a paperback, a pound for a hardback) of recent bestsellers. But, more than that, the selection is so comprehensive and wild you’ll come across things at the opposite end of the scale, interesting to nobody but you. On my first visit I left with Reclaiming the Ground, a publication by the Christian Socialist Movement from 1993 featuring historically insignificant essays by confessing members of the Labour party. For those after something older and grander, the Emporium keeps a range of antiquarian books, carefully catalogued by a retired schools inspector whose first language is ancient Greek. And naturally, considering the history of the venue and the associations it retains, there’s a lot of stuff on religion, from the works of Wesley and Whitefield to children’s Bibles and, in the spirit of ecumenism, the Anglican Prayerbook or an English translation of the Koran. There are even refreshments. Not that he would tire of the books, but if a customer’s body starts to let him down he can take a seat and enjoy a cup of tea. Everyone who helps out in the shop is a volunteer, which means the place tends to be handily overstaffed.

So that’s one thing you might do with an old Methodist chapel, if you can’t bear to let go of it. Another would be to open it as a museum. There’s one of those a few miles up the road in Englesea-Brook, and what money the Book Emporium makes supports the preservation of that heritage site and its collection of Primitive Methodist artifacts. Or you could just sell the thing and let it reopen as a mini-mart, because one thing you can’t get in a museum or a bookshop is a two litre bottle of Sprite.Photo for blog (1 of 1)


About Carol Henshaw

I am a retired medic & academic who volunteers in this bookshop. I love books, travelling, photography, painting and printing, all sorts of music (choral singing now & hope to take up the saxophone), gardening and natural history, arts & crafts, hanging out with old friends and making new ones.
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2 Responses to How did it all start?

  1. dyane says:

    What a wonderful & fascinating read, John. Thanks for guest posting!

    Churches are wonderful paces to house books, whether for sale or as libraries. There’s a certain energy in the room that lends itself to books and the people who love to be around them. It’s wonderful that you and Carol both volunteer in such a place.

    I must admit the last sentence made me chuckle, but I sincerely believe that the less mini-marts we have in this world, the better! Sprite stopped tasting good once I found out it was liquid sugar. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Harold says:

    An interesting article and well written James.
    A reminder to pay another visit again soon.

    Liked by 1 person

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