Why Did I Do It?

I didn’t tell anyone that I was giving up my shop until almost the last moment, or at least until it became obvious. When I started packing books in boxes and a van came to take the first load to my new premises, then it was obvious to all, because I was someone forever acquiring books, never getting rid of them. If they were leaving my shop by the van full, that could only mean one thing. Somehow I wanted everything to go on as before and I told no one I was leaving, opened the shop every morning at the usual time and even put new stock on the shelves. (It’s true! Each day, before I started endlessly packing-up books, I unpacked a couple of interesting boxes of fresh stock.)
Perhaps you could say I was in a state of denial. Some of you probably knew Nigel Williams and his marvellous stock of modern literature at his shop in Cecil Court, almost opposite mine. Before his tragic death at the end of last year I used to see him everyday, often he would walk past my shop as I was unlocking the door and we would always exchange a cheery word. He was at this time, I understand, very ill, but this never made any difference to his smile, or his often acerbic comments on the state of the book trade. This made his death a great shock for me, but now I can comprehend a little why he wanted to go on doing what he loved, and talked to me as if books were the most important thing on his mind.
So my feelings were very mixed, even after I had decided to leave the shop. One important pressure was the constant rise in the expenses and I began to feel that I was a slave to the government, the landlord and the local council. The worst of these expenses were the business rates. Now that I am no longer a shopkeeper I can point out that they are killing smaller shops, without being accused of self interest. By the time I left, I was paying £850 per. month of this insidious and destructive tax, on a modest bookshop, and unlike Income Tax, the business rates do not go down when you have a bad year.
Competition from the internet also influenced my decision: seeing a customer’s face light-up when I went to a shelf and fetched the very book they wanted, became a rarer and rarer experience. The only times I could still do this were when the customer was very old and though of the internet as a sort of sex-toy for adolescents or when I offered expensive books that the customer could not obtain elsewhere, and rare book dealing is not the same as shop keeping.
But I had lived with these problems for years, and could probably have lived with them until the grim reaper made all such problems redundant.
The main reason I gave up the shop was hope. Hope that I could recover the excitement of finding books, of handling books and of selling books to people whose lives would be enhanced by them. This has been the theme of my life and it will not die, but the grind of shop keeping was slowly killing it.
Wait until I upload the description of the 1591 edition of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso I am working on now, and you will understand what I mean.