Amongst the doorsteps and empty shop windows that add to the gloom of Greyfriars Garden, one cannot help but notice the warm lighting and bright colours shining in Topping & Company Booksellers. The bookstore, which opened in St Andrews last term, has been successful in capturing the attention of students and residents alike, often serving as inspiration for Instagram and Facebook photos. The Saint chatted to Mr. Robert Topping about his business (although he doesn’t refer to it that way), his relationship with St Andrews and his love of books.
Our interview was relaxed and casual, which appears to be the way Topping likes to do things. We stood at the counter, occasionally taking a break so he could help someone find or pay for a book. He immediately offered me a cup of coffee and continued to do so a few more times during the interview. “Coffee is a big thing with us,” he said while explaining that, while Topping & Company love coffee, they are not a coffee shop because “we mostly spend our time with the books, so we do the coffee in between books.”
However, Topping enjoys seeing people sitting around having a cup or wandering through the books with one in hand. To him, they are not customers; he described them as “friends, and supporters,” explaining that “it’s a community thing.”
With two other stores, one in Ely and the other in Bath, the Booksellers have gathered fans all across the UK and opening a store in St Andrews was “a bit like coming home,” they said. They were pleased with the high ceilings in their St Andrews storefront as it gave them the ability to put in library ladders, adding to physical appeal of the store.
When asked about catering to students Topping explained that the process of building their stocks is ongoing and they don’t have all the academic books and maybe never will. But, they are trying to stock a few books off of student reading lists. “We’re going to have lots of what we call interesting books, which are also academic,” Topping said.
He doesn’t worry about competing with other bookstores in St Andrews as he explained: “I don’t really look upon it as competing. There is scope for lots of bookshops doing different things … we’re here for people who really love books.”
That’s really what it’s about for Topping, love of books. In terms of hiring students to work in his shop he said that he looks for “people who love books, people who like people, and people who are available,” but they won’t be hiring again until summer.
Topping & Company will be hosting investigative reporter Joanna Blythman on Monday 9 March as part of GreenWeek, with scholar tickets, which include a glass of wine and act as a redeemable voucher, on offer. This event is just one of many upcoming events at Topping & Company as part of an effort to stay community focused.