Adored Plymouth book stall to close after six decades

A well-loved independent book stall is to close this weekend – after a staggering 61 years in business.

Owners Richard and Kathie Fielder, who took on The Book Stall in Plymouth Market from Richard’s father in 1991, have loved running the bookstall and getting to know their customers over the years, but have now decided it’s time to retire and focus on the next chapter of their lives.

Richard, 75, remembers when his parents first opened the stall back in 1959 and feels grateful for the support and ‘loyalty’ of so many customers, many of which have become regulars over the years.

Throughout the Bookstall’s time at the market, Richard has noticed lots of changes in the market itself and in people’s reading habits.

While back in the 1960s “half the stalls” were fruit and vegetable stalls – now there are a lot of eateries, Richard says, and people have swapped paperbacks for Kindles and eReaders.

Unfortunately, due to the combination of Richard and Kathie’s retirement and rent rates, the business is no longer profitable and sadly will be closing down permanently.

Richard’s father Arthur Fielder founded The Book Stall in 1957, and moved it to Plymouth Market in 1959 [photo circa 1960]

Richard has noticed many changes in the market over the years, including the impact of shopping centres and supermarkets, and the development of technology.

He told PlymouthLive: “My father and mother ran the stall for thirty years [before me]. The stall began at the old Pannier Market in Plymouth, where Boots now is, back in 1957. It moved to where it is now, at Plymouth Market, in 1959.

“When the market first opened, 50 per cent of the stalls were fruit and vegetable stalls, as at that time there were no supermarkets. So people would come into town on a Saturday and buy the week’s groceries and then take them home on the bus.

“But now the market is mainly eateries.”

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Unfortunately, Richard feels the market “doesn’t have the footfall” that it used to, particularly because less holidaymakers stop in the market.

When tourists would have to drive through Plymouth city centre on their way to Cornwall, they would stop and peruse the market, he said, but now holiday-makers don’t drive through the area and so they have fewer people visiting the stall.

For The Book Stall, crime and romance novels have always been the most popular – “it’s the two ends of the spectrum: love and hate!” Richard said.

But with developments in technology and the rise of streaming services, a lot of people simply don’t have the patience to read a long book, so business isn’t as busy as in previous years.

Richard explained: “Now when you watch something you can see every episode on-demand, instantly. People want instant gratification, rather than reading a long book.”

Back in 1959, few people had televisions so Richard’s family would see whole families flock to the Bookstall to get their hands on novels.

“Whole families would come,” he said, “grandparents, parents and children. But we don’t tend to get that now.”

However, Richard and Kathie feel very fortunate to have always had the support of their wonderful customers, many of whom have been visiting the stall for years and have become good friends with the couple.

Speaking to PlymouthLive after the 60th anniversary of the stall last year, Richard explained: “We’ve got lots of loyal and regular customers here, and it’s because of them that we’ve been able to maintain a business.

“A lot of them we know personally, customers come in to speak to me and my wife and to tell her their troubles because she’s got a good listening ear.”

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Richard and Kathie live in Mary Tavy and are looking forward to spending their retirement “doing a bit of exploring and walking”.

While now feels like the right-time to retire, Richard’s decision was also spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the impact of the lockdown and rent rates, the business is no longer profitable, he said.

And with no-one set to take over the stall, it will sadly end trading this weekend.

Plymouth Live