BOOKS AT ONE OPENS ON MEATH STREET IN MARCH
by Courtney Fitzmaurice
There’s excitement in the air in Dublin’s Liberties – a gorgeous new community bookshop is opening at the end of March.
It’s been a hectic few days for Joanne Hunter, general manager at Books At One. The anticipation began last week, when RTÉ Radio presenter and book lover Rick O’Shea tweeted about the new location.
Books At One will take over a former butcher’s shop which has been empty for over 12 years. The building was provided by Dublin City Council, who supported Books At One in bringing the shop to Meath Street.
Books At One operates in areas of social disadvantage or rural isolation, bringing bookshops to locations that may not be commercially viable for a chain.
“There is no general bookshop in the area,” said Joanne. “We’ve had great meetings with a lot of the teachers in the area, with people in the Liberties College, with other local business owners, with the Liberties’ Cultural Association.”
“If you want people to read and enjoy books in everyday life, then you need a bookshop in the area.”
There’s a real lack of community spaces in the Liberties. Of course, books will be sold during the day, but in the evenings the space is open to local people to hold their own social gatherings, such as a book club or a residents’ association meeting.
“We’re putting money in, but we’re getting more out of the community. We’re bringing them together through books, but not exclusively through books.”
Books At One has two other locations, both in rural Ireland. The Louisburgh shop in Mayo opened in 2016, and the Letterfrack shop in Galway in 2020. The Liberties location has a significantly larger reach, with the population of the Liberties itself being over 23,000, not to mention the rest of Dublin.
Opening in the city is “exciting and challenging,” and there’s been a wonderful reaction in the local community. “All we have to do is stand outside the shop and someone comes up and asks what’s happening and everyone is really enthusiastic about it.”
For those who aren’t readers or didn’t grow up around books, Books At One is a welcoming and inclusive space. With a wide variety of books, there’s something for everyone
“You can bring people into the bookshop for reasons other than reading, but then they become comfortable in the space,” she said. “If it’s only coming in for a cup of tea or coffee and a slice of cake, then maybe you’ll get around to talking about this book that just came in last week, and in that way get them involved in reading.”
Partnering with local businesses, organisations, artists and schools is key for Books At One. The book-shaped bench outside the Louisburgh shop was made by the local Men’s Shed, while in Letterfrack at Christmas the shop sold wreaths made by a local woman.
In the last month, Books At One Louisburgh worked with Sancta Maria College, the local secondary school. Each first year student visited the Louisburgh shop to have a ‘blind date with a book’, which they took home with them.
A few weeks later, the students acted as matchmakers for each other in ‘speed dating with a book’, recommending their book to their classmates. These books will later be given to the school library for all the students to enjoy.
One of the wonders of local bookshops is the interactions between customers and booksellers. The customer gets a level of care and thoughtfulness they may not receive in a chain bookshop.
If you’d like to pop in to the shop a half hour before opening or after closing for a private browsing session, Books At One are there to help.
They also have an excellent selection of books for children and adults with dyslexia.
“We have parents now just sending us messages over social media saying ‘This is the first time that my young fella was excited about reading a book.’” Books At One can “make sure that the kids that, maybe 10 or 15 years ago would not have been diagnosed with dyslexia, that they now have books they can read that are interesting to them. They’re not baby stories. The story in the book is relevant to their age group.”
Where will Books At One head to next? Those in the Midlands will be delighted to hear of plans for a shop in the region.
“It’s like putting a jigsaw together, you know. You need this magic combination of the right people, and the right place, and then the property and the finance to make it happen,” she said. “The key is getting other people on board and getting support from people like Dublin City Council and other organisations. That’s how we’ll bring it to lots of other communities.”
In a time where it seems the culture of our capital city is disappearing in favour of hotels, it’s great to see something positive happening. Make sure to pop in to Books At One on Meath Street once it opens next month.