A fixture forever

The shop front in 1958.
The shop front in 1958.
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Not some far flung island but Port Creek alongside Eastern Road, Portsmouth, earlier this week. I counted more than 50 plastic bottles along with other man-made filth.

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As a finale in the series of features about some of the oldest businesses in The News circulation area, I am going to Lee-on-the-Solent and The Bookshop.

Believe it or not, it is one of the few surviving independent bookshops in south Hampshire.

To my knowledge there are none in Gosport, Fareham or Portsmouth. The nearest are at Hayling Island and Petersfield.

The shop has been a fixture in the High Street for as long as locals can remember, almost 80 years.

A Leonard Miles opened a flower shop at 142, High Street in 1933 in which he added a small lending library. So successful did the book side of things become that he closed the flower side of the business and became a full-time bookshop.

By 1950 the shop was owned by Thomas Clague ‘bookseller and stationer’. Since his time the shop has changed hands several times and readers may remember the Pollards, Adamses, Wilsons and the Excells.

The current owner is Rick Barter who took over from the Excells in 2004 with colleague Martin Roach as webmaster. He is ably assisted by Jan Watkins, Tim Seward, Sarah Kelly and Beth Hallett.

Rick is originally from America and grew up in New York City. He speaks several languages including French, some German, a little Spanish and a smattering of Arabic.

I asked Rick what had been the biggest change in reading over the years and, of course, he replied ‘the internet and e-books’.

‘People still buy paper books, but as we now sell e-books as well we have one foot in the High Street and another in cyberspace.’

Imagine what customers 80 years ago would have thought about reading a book pinged to them in a matter of seconds through the ether.

The one thing the shop suffers from which never existed in the days when the shop opened is parking.

‘If there was free on-street parking for just 20 minutes so that customers of all shops could just pop in and get their needs, trade would blossom,’ says Rick.

Apart from books Rick has diversified into cards, stationery, toys and gifts.

There is also a loyalty card scheme. Every time you make a purchase of more than £10, you receive a point. Once you have 10 points you receive a £5 voucher. Excellent idea.

All this personal service makes the shop an attraction not just for locals who love the shop, but the many tourists who visit Lee for its ambience.

Yet another business strides through the decades serving the people today just as it did all those years ago when Mr Miles changed from flowers to books.