Turning Over a New Leaf

Bo’ness’s new book store Inkspot & Silverleaf is not just a career change but a dream come true for its owner Karen Millar. She began reading before going to school and has never stopped. So, combining her hobby with her work is something that she is just bubbling with excitement about.

The shop is situated at the junction of North Street and South Street in Bo’ness with a pleasant outlook in this improving part of town. If that sounds like estate agent speak, it’s not surprising. These things are important and were influential in Karen’s choice of location.

Karen MillarShe is only too aware of the popularity of online bookshops and chain stores which offer discounted books. “But I think the tide is turning back towards the High Street,” she says. “People are looking for personal service and they are keen to support local enterprise. In Bo’ness there’s a culture of supporting independent shops and, with the massive new house building programme, we are all hoping to attract newcomers.

“One way is by offering personal treatment. People are starved of personal communication and the fact that I say ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’ is attractive. I think I’m more approachable than someone who is standing at a Pay Point, when people are purchasing books for other people and want some advice.”

Career Change
Karen’s background was in tourism but the 9/11 crashes seriously affected her trade – she was in the United States at the time. On returning to the UK, she went to Stirling University to complete a Masters in Publishing. From there she moved to Oxford and worked for a huge publisher.

Browsing in the bookshop“I always wanted to run my own business,” she says. “When I was working in a big company, I was just doing one or two things every day. When you work for yourself, you do everything. My father owns his own engineering business so I knew what I was letting myself in for. I wanted that degree of control you can only have when you’re your own boss.”

Her publishing background meant that she knew the book trade very well from that side and so a book shop seemed like a realistic option. She came home to Maddiston and began looking. Almost immediately, this former gift shop became available.

“Now I’m on this side of the counter, it’s a steep learning curve! But I’m never bored. I love the variety.”

The shop itself has no specialisms . Karen confesses that the first 6 months in business will be her market research. “I want this to be a community book shop,” she says. “Although at the moment there’s a lot of my personal taste, I am listening to the regular customers that come in and I can have requested items here in 2-3 days, 24 hours if they’re in stock at the wholesaler. I think that’s pretty good – and there’s no postage.”

Children's cornerIdeas for the Future
Karen has loads of ideas for the future. She has an enticing corner for children, with low level racks and shelves and plans for beanbags where story telling events can take place. She also plans to start a book reading group as she knows several people already who are interested. Her noticeboard displays local events and her windows are themed to reflect current goings on. At the moment the theme is gardening, in the lead up to the Chelsea Flower Show and Gardening Scotland. Next week, it will tie in with Bo’ness’ Victorian Market.

“If my business is going to succeed, I know I’m going to have to come at it from lots of different angles,” she says. “I’m just loving the challenges.”

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Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.

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