It’s time for a new chapter… an announcement from Bob…The Gutter Bookshop – September 2023

When I left my job as a promotions book buyer in the Summer of 2009 to set-up The Gutter Bookshop I always saw it as a ten year project. I wanted to prove to myself, and to everyone else, that in the age of Amazon, digital books, and an Irish financial recession it was still possible to open an independent bookshop in Dublin and make it both a profitable company and a successful part of Dublin’s literary community. Fourteen years later, we have accomplished more than I ever dreamed of.

I opened The Gutter Bookshop on Cow’s Lane in Temple Bar in Autumn 2009 on a budget of €70,000. Half of that was my own life’s savings and the other €35,000 was provided on ‘a long-term loan’ from my Dad. Most of the money was spent on fitting out the shop with professional book shelving and then filling those shelves with great books to sell. We opened the bookshop doors on 3rd November 2009 and our first book sale was “Where’s Wally Now?” which still feels oddly apt… Our first six months was spent refining our own style and building a local customer base. In 2010 we started our popular bookclubs and started hosting bookshop events – everything from launches to open-mic poetry nights to a ‘meet your perfect book match’ night for Valentine’s Day.

Our bookshop business and profile grew and we were invited to become the official festival booksellers for the Dublin Writers Festival (now International Literature Festival Dublin) and from there we expanded our festival bookselling arm to include the Mountains To Sea Festival, Dublin Book Festival, the Children’s Books Ireland Conference and in later years the Dublin Festival of History and the Murder One Crime Writing Festival. In 2013 we were invited to sell books for the weekend at Dalkey Book Festival and set-up our “pop-up Gutter” in a local wine shop. The weekend was a huge success and later in the year we were asked to provide another pop-up Gutter for Christmas in Dalkey as their own bookshop had closed a couple of years before and they missed having a local bookshop. That “pop-up” never “popped-down” and The Gutter Bookshop in Dalkey will celebrate its 10th year in business this November. In 2017 we were awarded Independent Bookshop of the Year for UK and Ireland at the British Book Awards.

In 2019 I started to consider what to do next. I had been offered the chance to purchase our Temple Bar shop unit which I managed to do with the aid of a bank loan and money left to me after my Dad’s death in 2016. I knew that this would mean extending my time in the Gutter but it would also give the bookshop, and myself, great security for the future. Then in March 2020 the first lockdown due to Covid-19 began and, like many other small business owners, my focus was purely on keeping my business going and using online resources to get as many books out to as many desperate readers as we possibly could. Already exhausted, I was working seven days a week both at home and behind locked doors in the bookshop to keep everything going. It was an incredibly stressful and worrying time for us all. By the time we managed to re-open our shops fully in May 2021 I was completely burnt out and in need of time away. But when you run your own company, extended time off is rarely a feasible option. I have been lucky enough to have a great team of booksellers around me whose hard work and commitment allowed The Gutter to continue to trade over these difficult years but the financial risk and overall responsibility always lay with me.

In April 2022 I was lucky enough to have my first children’s book published by The O’Brien Press. ‘Our Big Day’, a picture-book about marriage equality, had been accepted for publication in early 2020 but was put on hold during Covid before going into print two years later with beautiful illustrations by Michael Emberley. This new project gave me energy and enthusiasm and the support from the book trade and readers was wonderful to see. In November 2022 we were awarded an Irish Book Award for Children’s Book of the Year – Junior Category. I really wanted to find time to write more but the Gutter Bookshop was still taking at least six days a week of work. After thirteen years it was definitely time to move on.

When you start a small business you just hope that you can make it survive. You hope that you can keep it going, whatever the world throws at you, and you hope that someday you will actually make a profit and be able to pay yourself a decent wage. You also hope that, when the time is right, you can find someone who will continue to make it work and continue with all that effort that you put into building your business. For me, that time is now.

Earlier this year Dubray Books and I started to discuss the possibility of them taking over the running of both of our independent bookshops. They would retain our wonderful booksellers, and continue to provide books and literary events to our fantastic customers and supporters in both Temple Bar and Dalkey. They would also retain our name and brand, so ‘The Gutter’ could continue to exist. It would also give me some time out of working to complete that novel I had started writing way back in 2008, as well as some time to rest and recover from the stress of the past few years. As expert Irish booksellers with many years of experience, I know that Dubray will continue to run our bookshops in a customer focused style – which is all I could ever hope for. On a personal note, I really want to thank everyone – loyal customers, authors, publishers, festivals, friends, family, our amazing staff, and everyone else – who have made The Gutter Bookshop such a huge success over the past 14 years. It’s time for me to “turn the page” and “begin a new chapter” but I hope that I’ll always be looking at the stars…