Meet John Sainsbury of Sainsburys Books in Camberwell
Article posted: January 22, 2016
An idea to start a second-hand book shop in Camberwell began when John Sainsbury wanted to sell an overflowing number of titles from his personal book collection.
He began selling books he no longer needed at the Camberwell Market before opening a physical store in Burke Rd.
Sainsburys Books, which now operates in Riversdale Rd, is one of Camberwell’s oldest shops and has been in the area for more than 30 years.
The book shop buys and sells quality second-hand books across specialised categories including art, design, photography, architecture and history.
There are also smaller sections covering categories like military, cooking, philosophy, science and some fiction.
While the more modern and aesthetically beautiful art books are among the most popular titles sold at the store, Mr Sainsbury says it’s a different story for fiction.
“I often say that I can sell a novel that is relatively new – released within the past three to four years – or your classics that are more than 40 years old but nothing in between. Our customers either want to read something they missed the first buzz of or they want to revisit a book they first read in their youth.”
A big part of Mr Sainsbury’s job is staying up-to-date with current books trends, knowing which titles are in demand and understanding how that will translate to sales of second-hand books.
Many people come into the store looking to complete an old collection of children’s books, for instance.
“They want those books they read as a child and now want to share them with their own children – they want them for the nostalgia,” Mr Sainsbury said.
“There’s something special about finding an old edition of a classic book that has lived on through the years.”
Sourcing the books that end up on the shop’s shelves is done in a number of ways, including collections from deceased estates, an annual buying trip to America and books sold directly from regular customers and those who walk in off the street.
“It’s important for us to have a good variety of titles among the categories we sell,” Mr Sainsbury said.
Most of the books on sale in the shop are individual titles meaning customers are likely to find a rare edition or hidden gem.
Sainsburys Books has also embraced the shift to online book sales and are kept busy daily with orders that come in via their website.
“For our online sales, we find people are looking for very specific books such as a particular title to complete a bigger collection, or a specific book on military history, for instance,” Mr Sainsbury said.
“We also send out a regular email newsletter to let our customers know about new books that have come in or titles that we think will be of particular interest.”
For Mr Sainsbury, running a book shop is about a genuine passion for books.
“I do find books really interesting … the experience of holding a physical book and I do like buying books and seeing people’s personal book collections. It’s fascinating,” he said.
“I also like the whole culture of books and seeing how they have changed over the years, including the style and design of them.”
Most of all, Mr Sainsbury loves meeting the people that come to visit his store.
“I like finding out what other people are reading to expand my own interests and to learn about what they want to read,” he said.
“The book people are good. We’re all enjoying the same thing but finding our own niche.”