The first bookshop I remember was W.H. Smith in Horsham, in the days when they mostly sold books. There was a room for children’s books at the back, with black shelves, where I browsed The Famous Five, Tom Swift, Biggles and Swallows and Amazons before spending the half-a-crown I had save up (yes, really children) which my grandmother doubled if she was with us, so I could buy two books.
After that…. they really do blur. I remember Solstice, in Brighton, which had such wonderful titles as ’50 Recipes with Hash’ ( which I didn’t purchase) and a City Lights version of Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ (which I did purchase and still have.) There was Gilberts, in Winchester- a succession of rooms and cavities, up and down stairs, like a tiny universe of its own, transcending normal space. Most of them were independent, like the lovely ‘Book in Hand’ in Shaftesbury. In the same town, Hardings store had its own charming book section, where I spent book tokens my in-laws gave me for Christmas. Our local Arcade Bookshop for many years had an individual selection of books. In fact most small towns and even villages had their own bookshop, in my (perhaps selective) memory.
All the above have, I think, now gone. Of the large stores in my memory, Foyles in London, a huge treasure trove of books, is still there; and I know that Blackwells in Oxford is still as encyclopaedic as ever. I presume that university bookshops still exist; these like a good tool shop, made me feel I could tackle any task confidently.
More on this subject to follow.