Hatching a brand-new bookshop: interview with Pigeon Books

Melissa J. Davies

Melissa J. Davies describes the origin story of Pigeon Books, currently Southsea’s tiniest bookshop. It’s a pop-up shop at the moment, and hopes to have a permanent home soon.

What led you to decide to open a bookshop, in these challenging times for high-street retail?

I think on the one hand it’s a great time to open a bookshop; there have been articles in the Guardian and positive news recently about how indie bookshops are growing despite the current economic climate, but then on the other hand we have the looming threat of a no-deal Brexit that will potentially throw us all into chaos and oblivion.

Personally I think that starting any kind of business is a risk but people do it every day and are very successful at it. So why can’t I be one of those people? If it doesn’t work then it doesn’t work; I only lose if I don’t try it.

Luckily Phil is of a similar mindset; all I needed to get him on board was the promise of a shop dog once we’re properly set up.

Are you going to specialise in any specific genres of book?

We’re going to be stocking mainly new fiction, non-fiction, LGBT+ lit and diverse children’s books. We think it’s really important for a bookshop to reflect its area and Portsmouth is so diverse that we want to make sure our shop is too. Portsmouth is a city that has a really low children’s literacy rate so we want to try and do our bit to combat this; we’ll be having story time sessions and starting a children’s book club and trying to make sure that everyone feels welcome and represented in the stories they find in our shop.

Which sales channels will you be focusing on?

Initially we’re working on a pop-up shop basis: we’re setting up a tiny bookshop at markets and various places around Southsea and the local area. We have a small range of books available to buy on our website which is linked to Facebook and Instagram. I love the Instagram sales option, it’s such a great way to reach new readers!

What do you think the future of bookselling looks like?

I think bookselling needs to be more than about selling books; I know that sounds weird, but you can buy books from anywhere but you can’t chat about books anywhere and that’s where indie bookshops have their market. You can’t start an Amazon support chat and ask the operator who their favourite feminist poet is, but you can absolutely do that in a bookshop.

I’ve approached the idea for Pigeon Books in a similar way to how I approached writing my book, in that I wrote what I wanted to read. With Pigeon Books I’m creating the shop I want to visit. That means stocking gorgeous books as well as being somewhere that benefits the community with a writing space, workshops and a safe space for people to enjoy books in.

Finally, where does the name Pigeon Books come from?

Originally I wanted to call it Seagull Books – but there’s already a shop with that name in Hove. When Phil (my husband) and I started looking at shops to lease, we went and sat by the beach for a chat about it all; it was very much an “I think we’re doing this, are we doing this?” chat and we happened to see a pigeon picking through the pebbles. I’ve never seen a pigeon on the beach before (although logically it must happen all the time) but it seemed like a good enough sign for us, so we decided on Pigeon Books instead; they are Portsmouth’s second most successful bird so it seems like a good choice.

Melissa J. Davies is a writer, poet and owner of Pigeon Books, Southsea. Her internationally acclaimed poetry collection Pineapples in the Pool was published by Unbound in 2018. She lives in a tiny house by the sea with her husband (Phil) and cat (Mrs Barbara Peanut). 

For more information about Pigeon Books, check out their Instagram and Twitter pages, or visit their first pop-up appearance at Love Southsea market on 3rd and 4th August.