We Sell Books: 'We’ve tried to create a little haven for kids, where they feel welcome’

We Sell Books: 'We’ve tried to create a little haven for kids, where they feel welcome’

Trish Hennessy owns Halfway up the Stairs, a dedicated children’s bookshop at La Touche Place, Greystones, Co Wicklow.

How long have you been in business?

We’re open almost three months.

Why did you open a children’s bookshop?

It’s something I’ve been dreaming about and planning for a long time. I used to sell Usborne children’s books in a part-time capacity and I built up a nice business.

A few times I thought there was a market in this town for a children’s bookshop but I decided I wasn’t ready. I then worked in Eason’s for two years in a management role. I left last January with the aim of seeing how feasible this would be.

I did a business plan and I was lucky enough to find the premises we’re in now. I have three children myself, my eldest is nearly 16, and I have a 13 and an 8-year-old. They’re really excited about the shop and are quietly proud of mum. My eldest works in the shop part-time on Saturdays, while the youngest is a good reader and has written a book recommendation for the shop. The middle guy drops in with his friends every now and again.

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Happy New Year to all our wonderful customers from us all at Halfway up the Stairs!!! (Closing at 2pm today and reopening at 10am on Thursday 2nd Jan.)

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How has business been?

Really great, I think people in the town are excited about having a dedicated children’s bookshop and they have been very supportive. I also find the bookselling industry is excited about it too because it’s the first fully dedicated children’s bookshop in the country.

There is a really lovely shop in Dublin city centre, Tales for Tadpoles - they mainly sell picture books and gift books. My shop has everything from kids’ to young adults books, toys and gifts.

What makes it different from other bookshops?

We’ve tried to create a little haven for kids, a special environment where they feel welcome. We have a reading space for them and there are toys for them to play with.

I’ve tried to find something a little different — lines you wouldn’t necessarily have in other shops, like wooden toys, eco-friendly products…we also have a strong Irish language section which is very popular. We’ve tried to keep it as open as possible.

It’s quite a small shop so we don’t want to cram too much in, and it has to be buggy- and wheelchair-friendly. We have also designed it so it’s quite easy for people to find what they’re looking for.

What has been the reaction of your younger customers?

Fantastic, there’s nothing better than the sound of them saying ‘oooh’ when the come in. We try to make the windows interesting so we often have sticky handprints on the glass from kids peering in.

We want children to feel welcome, that they can touch the books and play with the toys. We also get kids to write their own recommendations for books. I have always found that all a parent wants to hear is if a child enjoyed a book, and it’s good for the children too, they feel invested in it.

What is it like doing business in Greystones?

Really good. The population is booming here — there are eight primary schools, and two secondary with a third opening next year, so there’s a very big family population here.

I think the town has the lowest commercial vacancy rate in the country, there are strong businesses here and people come to the town to shop in places like The Happy Pear. And people like to shop local, I’m finding people are coming to me to buy the books specifically rather than getting them online.

There seems to be a real boom in children’s books in recent years, why do you think that is?

The quality of children’s books is superb, especially from Irish authors. Even during the recession as a children’s bookseller I found my sales didn’t dip because people will always invest in their children and they see books as an investment. Particularly younger kids’ books, which will be passed on, and parents also want their children to stay reading.

What three books would you recommend?

The big one everyone was talking about for Christmas was How Will Santa Find Us by Shane O’Brien and Stephen Rogers. It’s an important book — and a beautiful one. People were buying it to educate their kids about homelessness. It’s sad,but it’s written in a way kids can cope with.

The Great Irish Science Book by Luke O’Neill is fabulous, it makes science accessible for different age groups.

A Place Called Perfect by Helena Duggan is another very popular one that I would recommend for the 9-12 age group, it’s a series and she came and did an event for us, which the children loved. I’m hoping to have more of these events this year,authors have been very supportive in offering to do them.

I’m also planning events with schools, storytelling on a weekly basis, and book clubs, including an Irish language book club. I want it to be a vibrant space where things are happening, and where kids can meet their favourite authors.

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