Griffin Shea opened Bridge Books in a building being converted into the City Central Food Hall and Event Space on Commissioner Street in downtown Johannesburg. The store stocks mostly African books and is also a distribution hub for informal booksellers in the area.
I left a career in journalism to join a creative writing programme at Wits and then did a PhD looking at how young adult books are distributed and sold. I approached Jacana Media, who were curious about my research and gave me some books to bring into town to see whether there was a market. The books sold, and the backpack started to get heavy, so I traded it for a suitcase with wheels. I now supply 80 booksellers. Once I realised the market was here, the next step was setting up a store.
Why did you choose this area to set up shop?
How did you find your premises?
I initially looked in Braamfontein, but the rental prices are steep. Then by chance, Facebook showed me Urban Ocean’s development in this building, so I made a call, and within a week I’d been given a tour.
Why are they ideally suited to your business?
The space is in an underserved part of town with heavy foot traffic. When the food hall opens, it will draw the crowds in. The store occupies a small “bridge” overlooking the hall below, and also serves as a metaphorical bridge, linking the booksellers and authors to the city.
Who are your neighbours?
There are three storeys of offices above us, and then seven or eight storeys of flats above those. There’s a small publisher and an IT company upstairs. The food hall will provide a space for the people who do the Neighbourgoods Market over the weekend to trade in the week.
They are competitive – I’m paying half what I would have paid in Braamfontein for a similar space. Also, Urban Ocean has been great about offering short-term leases to small businesses so that they can try to get off the ground.
How many people go through your store each day?
We probably average about 10 to 20 a day. A lot of people come in between five and six, after work or while they are waiting for the Rea Vaya bus. Things will change when the food hall opens.
Do you have any expansion plans?
I dream of supplying lot of microshops – not a full book store but a corner in, for example, a hair salon or coffee shop. I’ve set up a shelf at my partner’s Thai massage studio – Puri Thai – in Parkhurst and Sandton. That’s how books are often sold in Lagos, so I am looking for more opportunities to do that.
Yes, all our books – including our second-hand books – are available on our site.
What’s your most popular item?
Our political biographies sell really well – Thabo Mbeki, Steve Biko, Desmond Tutu – and fiction.
079 708 4461
Words: Georgina Guedes
Images: Alon Skuy and Maciek Mazur