Bookstore Bio Series: Oxford Book Shop, London Ontario
- Tell us about yourself! What is your store name, where are you located, how long have you been in business etc.
We are Oxford Book Shop in London, Ontario. We’ve been in business since 1948 (our 70th anniversary this year!). Mark Pittam, co-owner with wife Hilary Thomas, is the second generation of the founding family. Mark’s parents (Eileen and Bob) met in England in 1946 just after World War II. Bob (a Canadian) had been a transport pilot for the RAF, and Eileen lived across the street from Bob’s cousin, whom he visited. They married in England, then after living in Holland for a year, they came back to London Ontario and started Oxford Book Shop.
- What is something interesting people should know about your store?
There have been many satellite locations of Oxford Book Shop in London, Stratford and Woodstock during the 70 years of business, but until 2012, there had always been a “head office” location on Richmond Street between Piccadilly and Oxford Streets. Three different addresses in that one block, the last one a big store designed and built by Bob and Eileen in 1979.
In 2012, with just that one store left, we moved into a very charming, small location in an old house, reminiscent of the first store they opened back in 1948. Not on Richmond Street, but still in the same neighbourhood (just around the corner from the old store).
- What is your favourite part about owning/running an independent bookstore?
I love knowing all our regular customers, talking about books and life. I love knowing what new books are coming by important and emerging authors, and how being in the book business keeps you interested in what’s going on in the world.
Our store is like our home. Literally, people parking at the back door come through what looks like a kitchen (it’s our shipping-receiving area, plus we have a ramp there for people who find the stairs at the front challenging). It’s very relaxed in our store now. I love that too. Plus, as long as we are here, our customers will have the choice to use an old-fashioned book store that still offers personal service, rather than being forced to deal with big-box business or online.
- What is the last book you read? What is your favourite book and why?
The Water Beetles by Michael Kaan is a book we read recently in our book club. It was short-listed for the Governor General literary award last year and was a very impressive debut set in Hong Kong during World War II, based on the author’s father’s journals and reminiscences.
I don’t have one favourite book, but sometimes books will stand out in my mind for a period of time as the best book I’ve read for awhile. Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift was one such book in the past year or so. A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin was another.