It’s a life of letters for stallholder

by ANTONY CLAY

Mike and Lorna Smithson of Mike’s Famous Book Stall.

BOOKS are still as popular today as they have ever been, according to Rotherham’s longest-standing seller of top quality tomes.

Mike Smithson, who runs Mike’s Famous Bookstall at the town’s Indoor Market, said that customers are as keen to browse and buy today as they have ever been.

Tastes have changed over the years, and new authors have come to the fore, but Mike said that readers are increasingly sticking with physical paper books and shifting away from e-readers.

And that trend is official. Mike said he was recently told at a major publishing event that computerised book sales are actually falling.

Not that Mike’s stall just limits itself to books. You can also find greetings cards, stationery, and even jigsaws for sale.

Mike, who runs the Rotherham stall with his wife Lorna, started in business back in August 1984 – and still has the first two pound notes from his first day as souvenirs.

Back in the day, Mike ran ten stalls spread as far apart as Leeds, Sheffield and Mansfield but today has just two other businesses in Barnsley’s new £120 million market and Mexborough’s indoor market.

He also has a Doncaster outlet selling books online.

Whether you fancy a thriller or a romance, a history text or a children’s book, a Bible or a comedy, Mike has stacked his shelves with an impressive display of publications by an array of authors.

“I think people read as much now as they used to do,” said Mike.

“We get younger people at the stall and 20-year-olds but a lot of older people as well because when they have retired they have more time to read,.

“Ladies have always read more than men.”

Tastes have changed over the years as well, particularly with female readers, said Mike.

He said that traditionally, women would have gone for romances but now they are as likely to snap up thrillers by the like of James Patterson, Lee Child and Andy McNab as male readers.

Having said that, Mills and Boon books are still bestsellers for Mike, particularly since he offers a book exchange deal giving back half the price of a book once it’s been read.

His best-selling book is Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey which tells the tale of the Fitzwilliam family who inhabited Wentworth Woodhouse.

In fact, Mike said that books about the local area always sell very well, both with people who live in the area and with visitors.

Whether it be the reminiscences of former Attercliffe bobby Martyn Johnson or books on coalmining, the area’s past or steam engines, books about this part of the world fly off the shelves.

“We try to change things if something becomes popular,” said Mike.

He said that he liked to help customers find new writers when they visit his stall. He said that he could point people to new authors ploughing a similar furrow to a reader’s usual favourites.

And Mike knows what he is talking about because he likes to become engrossed in a good book himself.

“I like thrillers and autobiographies and true stories,” said Mike.

The books on sale at Mike’s Famous Bookstall are a mixture of new and used, and he said he can order any book in print if a customer asks for a hard-to-find title.

Mike believes that the success of his Rotherham stall in particular is because of its location in the town’s Indoor Market which he sees as a popular shopping destination.

In fact, Mike blows the trumpet for Rotherham as a whole and said it is still a great place to visit and shop, as well as to be a business person.

He said: “People still use the market in large numbers.

“I don’t think Rotherham is going downhill. The bus station being back in use now will make a big difference.

“The town has got lots of individual enterprise.”

Mike said he hoped to “carry on” selling books to people for a long time yet – and was not averse to increasing his portfolio as well.

“If there are any opportunities to open new stalls I will do,” he said.

“We do sell online but people do still like to come out and see what there is.”

It is good to know that people still love books, even in the face of all sorts of alternative distractions like the internet, TV and music.

People have been browsing through a good book as far back as the times of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dickens and it is good to know that Mike is still encouraging people on that literary path.

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