Trish Kerr is the owner of Kerr’s Bookshop, which is located on Ashe Street, in Clonakilty, Co Cork.
How long have you been in business?
We’re open 27 years in November this year, we bought the premises in 1992 and opened that month. We’ve been going ever since.
How did you get into bookselling?
I met my husband John at the University of Limerick when I was doing a business degree and we emigrated. We were abroad 16 years in Canada and the Bahamas, then we came back for family reasons.
I’m originally from between Kanturk and Mallow. John is from Clonakiilty, so we bought the bookshop, which was a closed drapery shop then. We live over it. At the time
Clonakilty was a quiet town, but it has always been a steady town. It’s been wonderful and a great town to live in. I didn’t have a background in books but I always loved to read. I had lots of help — one of my sisters had a bookshop further up the country, so that helped me get started, but I had no experience at the time, just lots of courage.
The shop is part of an old building, can you tell me more about it?
The house is huge, it’s old and we’ve renovated it slowly over the years from top to bottom, starting with the bookshop part. We have maintained it in keeping with the architecture of the town. My husband does all the handiwork — it was his design for the shop and I’m so delighted when people compliment the wood shelving and so on.
What is it like to live over the shop?
It was great to bring up a family in town — we have three daughters. It was close to the school, facilities, and then you become the central focus for teenage years when everyone is going out. Now, my husband and I can go out and have a drink and come home for dinner, or out to one of the restaurants. It’s a great way to live, in a small vibrant town.
What kind of challenges have you faced over the years?
Setting up was a challenge, learning to run a business — even right now, 27 years later, I’m still learning. In the beginning I found the days very long, I’d work and then be home with the girls.
Watching the bottom line, the biggest challenge is learning to buy the right books — if you don’t have good stock, priced right, you won’t do well. But we’ve seen it go upwards year on year — people go on about technology, but that is not the case here.
What books are popular?
We’re a full general bookshop. We cater to local customers, from whom we get wonderful support, and tourists. From the time we opened, children’s books have been so important.
Parents want the best for their children and studies show that reading to children from as young as three months — or even holding a book in front of them — super-charges their learning and creativity. It’s lovely to see children come in and be so happy among all the books.
What are the secrets of your success?
There are a number of things — Clonakilty has been a perfect place to set up a business, the ethos here is what’s good for the town is good for business; it’s a happy place to be, it’s outward-looking. Also our location, right on the main street, plus the actual shop.
We’ve kept it up to date without changing the actual ambience, it’s an old-fashioned, well-organised bookshop.
And the loyalty of the customers is first and foremost. Good customer service is the key, it has to be, in a bookshop. Our customer service is friendly, helpful and professional.
Do you see any particular trends in books at the moment?
Children’s books always sell well, from babies right through, but in recent years we see cyclical changes, Christmas is very different to the summer. During the summer we sell a lot of fiction.
Fiction might have decreased when times were tougher, when people only bought what they needed, but now it’s back, and the range of books is so interesting and huge, it gets better all the time.
Irish fiction is particularly strong and it’s great to see people like Kevin Barry on the Booker long-list — anything like that helps book sales.
We’re very proud of Irish authors and we put them right in the front of the shop. People on holidays want to know what’s here; I’m always surprised how many Europeans, for whom English is obviously a second language, read so many Irish authors. It’s wonderful to see.
What are the rewards of being a bookseller?
To be in retail and in a bookshop, it’s a great pleasure. Every day flies by. You meet the most interesting people every day. Also being part of a community, strolling up to the bank, for example, and knowing the people on the street.