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Lockdown in the North East: Much loved bookshop unearths lost treasures

By Calum MacLeod

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Charles Leakey inside Leakey's Bookshop. Picture: James Mackenzie..
Charles Leakey inside Leakey's Bookshop. Picture: James Mackenzie..

Online bibliophiles have provided a lockdown lifeline for one of the North East’s best known and most beloved shops.

While anti-coronavirus restrictions mean the doors Leakey's Bookshop must remain closed to customers at present, the business on Church Street, Inverness has seen a big surge in online orders, with internet sales up by 300 to 400 per cent.

"Online interest has hugely increased. It’s certainly keeping the shop afloat," owner Charles Leakey acknowledged.

"People have acquired these new habits, not just in buying books but everything online. It’s worrying in one sense if it is going to affect the retail shops on high streets across the country, but at least people are buying.

"Maybe that side of the business will continue to be brisk, but hopefully once things return to normal, people will return."

Charles is looking forward to welcoming real customers back to what is regularly listed as one of the UK’s best antiquarian and second-hand booksellers.

"I can’t wait to get going, but when that might happen I have now way of knowing yet, but it certainly won’t be this month," he said.

In the meantime, lockdown has presented Mr Leakey with an opportunity to rediscover some lost literary treasures.

"I have been buying books in the Highlands since 1976, so I’ve been at this for a long time," he said.

"Over the decades I have accumulated a large mass of material, a lot of which goes into the shop, but a lot is in storage elsewhere in the building.”

"Lockdown has given me an opportunity to do a lot of productive work. It’s actually quite good fun and I’m coming across things that I had completely forgotten about and didn’t know were there."

These treasures have included an Edwardian edition of the novels of Jane Austen from 1911, which sold almost immediately online to a collector for £400.

However, the real prize find was from another famous Georgian rather more closely connected with Highland history.

"I rediscovered a framed letter from Bonnie Prince Charlie in French," Mr Leakey revealed.

"It wasn’t actually written by him, it must have been written by a secretary, but he signed it.

"I suppose Bonnie Prince Charlie is about as good as it gets in the Highlands as an iconic figure, so that was exciting. I might hang on to that. I’ll never see another such item."

Although the shop has been shut to customers Charles has been joined by members of the family to carry out another task that might only be possible in lockdown – re-ordering some sections of the shop, such as the crime, thriller, sci-fi, fantasy and popular fiction shelves, into alphabetical order.

It might make it easier for enthusiasts to find their favourite authors, but Charles himself appears to have mixed feelings about the change.

"Some sections do have to be in alphabetical order, but I’ve generally operated on the principal that if one puts books into general categories that make sense, and provided they are interesting books, people will go into those categories and will find things," he said.

"That’s certainly been my experience and it’s worked.

"That, I think, is the delight of a second-hand bookshop, that it will contain things, if the stock is well chosen, that people haven’t come across before and didn’t know they were interested in or didn’t know existed.

"Books are endlessly fascinating and I think the second hand shop is the prime example of that, where you can browse and discover things you didn’t know about. It can be very exciting."

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