February 2017: Salts Mill, Saltaire


Entrance to second floor bookshop

The 1853 Gallery at Salts Mill opened in 1987 just over a year after the textile mill closed and started selling an ever-expanding range of books from 1988. It was renovated by a handful of people including the owner Jonathan Silver, scouring the walls, repainting, restoring and filling it with beautiful furniture, Burmantofts ceramics and, of course, David Hockney’s pictures. It was amazing really; incredible that Jonathan had such a vision for the place. We are still the largest independent collection of David Hockney’s work in the world! Initially it was just the gallery on the ground floor, which was very lively and bustling and full of books, with the paintings suspended on chains hanging from the old pipework. Just before I started working here, some 17 years ago, a furniture concession moved out and freed up a space on the second floor. We expanded the bookshop there and that allowed us to open up the gallery on the ground floor a lot more. We have carried on being an intriguing blend of both gallery and retail space; we play beautiful music down there, and keep the space full of vases of lilies. I’m not sure there is anywhere else that carries this off as well as we do. It’s a wonderful building to work in with, I think, the best views of any bookshop in the world, out on to the Moors. It’s hard on your shoes though, with all the stairs and stone floors, basically we work in a castle!


Ground flood bookshop & gallery: Art books & materials

We have visitors who come to see Hockney’s work, but not necessarily to buy books; people who come to see the building and the site because of the World Heritage status, but not necessarily to see Hockney or buy books and, finally, there is the Saltaire community, who see us as their local book shop. So you can see that selecting the range of books can be quite a difficult balancing act!

We are a year round attraction for tourists from all around the world. It’s a difficult market to pitch and the challenge is keeping regular customers happy and creating a range for visitors to buy on impulse. We benefit from there not being an entrance fee for visiting the gallery, and free parking, so this means visitors do have a bit of extra money to spend.


Children’s section, second floor bookshop

Our single biggest selling area is children’s picture books, the children’s section is a big draw, we put a great deal of thought into it and it’s a very beautiful space. Fiction is our biggest seller after that, closely followed by food and cookery; but we have a fantastic range of all kinds of gorgeous books here! We do very well with poetry, and our poetry events are becoming very popular; we are hoping to be able to develop this more over time. Simon Armitage has been several times and we’ve had up to 200 people turn up to see him. The last special event we had was to launch a collaborative exhibition, in Gallery 2, between the artist Jake Attree and the poet Robert Powell. Prior to that we held a book launch for local historian Maggie Smith and Salts Mill: The Owners and Managers 1853-1986. We find people come here because they want to see things that they wouldn’t find in your average bookshop, it’s not so much what we’ve got but more what we choose not to stock that makes us different.


Second floor bookshop

The busiest times of year are the school holidays as we’re a top destination for families. Our biggest challenge has been keeping going in the current economic climate, selling books; so far the big panic over kindles and e-books has not affected our sales as much as once feared, but we still need to keep people buying books that are not discounted, as they are on Amazon. People support us, we think, because it is such a beautiful space and they feel it’s a fair price for the experience. We hope people appreciate they are supporting a truly independent business and all the hard work that goes into maintaining that. We deal directly with the publishers and suppliers and put a great deal of thought into what we choose to sell. Although we don’t take a great deal of self-published books, we like to support authors where we can, and small publishers; there are some nice things happening in poetry with Inpress Books which make it easier for us to support smaller poetry presses through a central distributor and give things a chance.



Of course, it’s not just books we want people to enjoy; we have such a talented team and they put so much work into the whole range of products that we sell. We have a great reputation for greetings cards, art materials and stationery, and a huge range of Hockney posters; we do feel a lot of pride in our success.

We get in some very beautiful books and, as much as we can, we like to display everything face out on the shelves and flat on the tables to encourage people to interact with the books. It’s really nice when you take a punt on something unusual and different, and it works.


Of course, it’s not just books we want people to enjoy; we have such a talented team and they put so much work into the whole range of products that we sell. We have a great reputation for greetings cards, art materials and stationery, and a huge range of Hockney posters; we do feel a lot of pride in our success.


Staff recommends, second floor bookshop

A perennial favourite here is The Man who Planted Trees a novel by Jean Giono, and for years we have been selling tons of the Everyman edition of ‘Leonard Cohen Poems’. Obviously, David Hockney’s new ‘Sumo Book’ has sold incredibly well for us too, and Alan Bennett, we sold hundreds of copies of his new book over Christmas (it was signed exclusively for independent bookshops), but I guess both he and Hockney are two of Yorkshire’s greats!

We spoke to Rob, Book buyer for Adult titles and Art books.

Facebook: https://en-gb.facebook.com/Salts-Mill-194333997411967/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/saltsmill?lang=en

Address: Victoria Rd, Shipley, Saltaire, West Yorkshire, BD18 3LA

Tel: 01274 531 163

e-mail:  enquiries@saltsmillbooks.co.uk











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