New Haggerston bookshop owners on Black Books, Kingsland Waste and customers who ask for Velcro
- Credit: Isabel Infantes
The owners of Burley Fisher Books in Haggerston share something with Bernard Black – and it isn’t floppy hair, questionable HR skills or a drink problem.
The owners of Burley Fisher Books in Kingsland Road share something with Bernard Black – and it isn’t floppy hair, questionable HR skills or a drink problem.
No, on top of their counter, Jason Burley and Sam Fisher have the old-school cash register used as a prop in the Channel 4 sitcom.
Jason lives in Stoke Newington and Sam lives in Mare Street. Between them they have more than 40 years’ experience in the industry as sellers and publishers.
The pair met in 2013 when Sam applied to work in his other store, Camden Lock Books, which – despite its name – is based in Old Street. The Gazette meets them at the new shop on a Tuesday evening.
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“Sam has a brilliant energy and is full of ideas,” says Jason, “and I’ve worked with books all my life and I can’t see beyond them.
“I started selling them on a market stall in Camden 30 years ago. This is the bookshop I’ve always wanted to open.
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“Burley Fisher Books is other side of the coin to the Old Street shop.
“That’s a commuter shop, full of low-brow, easy reading books that people buy for the Tube.
“This new shop is all about the slow browse and discussion, and enjoyment of the physicality of the books on display.”
Located on the Kingsland Waste Market, in a building that used to be a hairdresser’s, it is surrounded by mini-supermarkets, kebab restaurants and charity shops.
North of Shoreditch and south of the bustle of Dalston, it is a less-than-obvious location for an independent bookshop – but that’s precisely why it was chosen.
“We’ve got high hopes for the area, and thought there was a gap for a shop that people would travel to visit,” says Sam.
Asked about the cash register and any possible similarities between the two shops, Jason admits: “It’s not really like that in here, but we do get some odd people coming in.
“Last week someone asked if I could give them a haircut. He hadn’t realised the shop had changed.”
“And we keep getting asked for Velcro,” adds Sam. “Do you buy Velcro in a bookshop?”
“But customers are so important for us,” says Jason, “and I learn something from them, more often than not.
“I like it when they give me reading recommendations. And I’m always struck by the incredible variety of people’s interests. We enjoy talking to our customers and encourage them to linger.
“This experience of being inside a bookshop, of being able to flick through books and ask for advice, is what enshrines the future of independent bookshops in the face of goliath Amazon.”
“We want to be more than a place to buy books,” says Sam. “We want to be a real hub for the local community.
“Lots of the furniture has been sourced locally – just like many of the books. We’re really excited about the abundance of independent publishers in the area, and are keen to support them.”
Their interest in the local area extends beyond the books and the shelves they sit upon.
They plan to create a book club and host readings by local writers, including Iain Sinclair and Sophie Mayer, and to promote the Hackney Archive’s upcoming exhibition on the history of conscientious objectors.
“We’re also currently trying to get permission to hold events that will encourage children to start reading early,” says Sam. “We think that’s so important.”
Their launch party on February 12 was attended by more than 150 people, including Hackney South and Shoreditch MP Meg Hillier and Hackney Council Speaker Cllr Sade Etti.
Jason says: “Cllr Etti was keen to talk about reinvigorating cobbled Kingsland Waste Market in front of the shop, which would be a great way to bring in Saturday customers.
“It took 15 minutes to walk from one end of the market to the other in its heyday, and it would be fantastic to see it restored.”
Judging from the steady trickle of customers who come in through the door, it seems they are doing fine just as it is.