Last week my eye was drawn to a two-inch column about an independent book store in peril. But this was not just any book store: it was (allegedly) the book store immortalised in the film, Notting Hill – you know, the role-reversal scene. Perhaps with a gathering of celebrities endorsements, the doors will be saved from closing. But why is this book store – of all the many independents – worthy of saving? The Travel Bookshop is, as even its most ardent admirers admit, just another poky little bookshop, small and cramped. And then, between the descriptions of creaky floorboards and spirals of dust motes trapped in the light, I find an answer: “For me this is like a dream factory, it’s full of books that make you want to go off and have adventures.” There is something about the setting from which books are sold that inspires. Add the romance of the cinema to specialisation of travel and surely you are on to a winner?
Following another reviewer’s insistence that the actual shop used in the film was 142 Portobello Road, quick research confirmed that it is now a shoe shop – trading under the name of the film. My reviewer friend tells how The Travel Bookshop was forced to move to its new home following frenzied media attention. With so much branding value, it was said to be a travel publisher’s dream to sell their books there. Photographs posted on sites show a sign in the window of its current location, declaring, ‘We’re nearly famous now.’ And nearly was perhaps as close as it got.
For every half-dozen tourists who simply wanted their photograph taken in front of the shop’s sign, for every half-dozen browsers who then went away and ordered their choice on Amazon, there was perhaps one pilgrim who appreciated that they were contributing to the life of a book that started in the mind of an author as a small idea, and they understood that they would treasure that book all the more.
The irony is that the original shop, had it not responded to the media attention, might have survived in its smaller guise.