The owner of a fascinating Nottinghamshire bookshop swears her shop is like ‘magic’ for the children who visit it. The Wonderland Bookshop on Carolgate is entirely based on Lewis Carroll’s famous story, Alice in Wonderland – with a reverse tea party hanging from the ceiling too.
The Retford shop, then known as Barrister in Wonderland, opened in May 2019 as a sister bookshop to Barrister’s Book Chamber in Retford and sells used children’s books for just £3, reports Lincolnshire Live. After working a part-time job at the bookstore a day or two a week, Helen Tamblyn-Saville took over the business after hearing it was closing.
She added: “They announced they were moving to Matlock in Derbyshire, but I felt like Retford could support a bookshop. I’ve always had a secret dream of owning a bookstore since I was little.
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“I love books, I used to read everything – I was always at Ottakar’s or Smith’s or the city bookstore. I saw the opportunity and had to seize it. I love children’s literature and just wanted to spread the joy of books.” The store was rebranded as Wonderland Bookshop in 2021 while retaining the fantastic interior.
It now sells brand new books, with a cheap bookshelf and online store. The owner added: “The design is absolutely amazing and that was the work of the previous owners.
“They were incredibly talented when it came to decorating the store. We’ve made a few small changes, like adding larger bookshelves, but overall it’s the same as it was when we took it over.
For the kids coming into the store, it can be like a magical experience. “The little ones come in and their jaws literally drop sometimes,” Helen said.
“You see her look up with this ‘wow’ expression and you hear her say it’s the ‘spell book store,’ which is very nice. I never get bored with their facial expressions and how happy they look.”
But the fun isn’t just for kids. Helen said: “Working there is so much fun, it’s like I have the best job in the world. I come every day and I’m happy. There’s a tea party at the ceiling – you can’t help but feel happy.
“You’d think I’d be bored after two and a half years, but it doesn’t get much better than that.” The Wonderland Bookshop has also played host to big names in children’s literature, including author and illustrator Rob Biddulph, as well as Bethany Walker and LD Lipinski.
“It would be nice to host an Alice in Wonderland tea party at some point, but unfortunately we’re just not big enough,” Helen said. On 16 March it was announced that the bookshop was the regional winner of the Midlands Independent Bookshop of the Year award.
Helen said: “I am absolutely delighted. I signed up for the Bookstore of the Year category on a whim, not knowing what to expect. We made the national shortlist for Children’s Bookstore of the Year last year and we were thrilled. We were in really good company with other bookstores and I was just over the moon to hear that we won.”
Next up is the national award, and the bookstore is one of nine on the list. The winner is expected to be announced in May. Looking to the future, Helen said there was “absolutely” still room for bookshops on High Street. “I think the latest numbers are that there has been a net gain in bookstore openings in the country,” she said.
“People love books and they love to browse through books. They are tactile. They are there in your hands – you can turn the pages and immerse yourself.
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