Monday, 18 February 2019

The Popular Book Centre/Shop

There was always an aura of low lit gloom about the place. And a smell. A smell of old things. Not unpleasant, though. The sort of papery smell you get when you press together thousands of pages of old books in close proximity. A comforting sense of age delivered via the nostrils. This was a place that, in a single unified unit, cemented a love for two different yet similar papery things - comics and books.

It was called the Popular Book Shop or possibly Centre - the memory is getting somewhat hazy on this point; even if it was called Centre, I have it in my mind as Shop*. It exists in memory only now anyway as it is no longer there (having being replaced by a hair beauty salon many years ago) but it is a formative part of my childhood.

It was the first shop I went into to buy back issues of comics. This was, back in my pre-teen days, predominantly copies of 2000AD (of course) but I also used to pick up old issues of Mad Magazine too, promptly ruining them too but doing the fold-in on the back page as soon as I got them. Being at that point far more visually inclined, the comics were the only part of the store that I really paid any attention to. 

When I first started going in there, there were mainly two people working in there. A younger more friendly guy who specialised in the comics and an older chap who always seemed to be a little sterner (with that automatic distrust/suspicion of potential theft or damage that older people sometimes seem to have for feckless children). The younger of the two eventually branched out to his own comic shop but not before he not only secured me a copy of the first issue of 2000AD (for the princely sum of £5) but also delivered it directly to the house! Now that’s what you call customer service.

As I edged into my teenage years, the allure of the books side of the shop came to the fore (given that the comics had gone by this point, I didn't have a lot of choice). The books were all secondhand and they offered you half your money back as a trade in if you no longer wanted it once you’d read it! Bonus. Being a collector of bookish objects, it was a deal that I used infrequently but I did use from time to time - there are, after all, those occasions when you do happen to pick out a stinker from the pile which may as well return from whence it came. My choices were pretty much exclusively sci if with the occasional Stephen King thrown in for good measure.

After a while, the chain eventually folded and the Popular Book Centres/Shops were no more. I spent enough time there, however, that I can still picture it exactly. The selection of enticing titles in the window. The rows and rows of books arranged by genre and then alphabetically in order. The bit round the corner where all the rudey magazines were and the hawkish look on the stern chap’s face if he felt you were edging too near to that area. Happy book-filled days and, in all likelihood, the reason I find it almost pathologically impossible to pass any sort of secondhand bookshop now. I’m just popping in there for a quick look, I’ll be out in a mo. No, it’s OK, you go on, I’ll catch you up….

* A bit of a Google search seems to indicate that it was Centre so now you know.

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