Bookseller for a while:
“A pleasantly boring holiday”
The Open Book project offers holidaymakers a very special experience: In the Scottish village of Wigtown, visitors can run an independent book shop for up to six weeks. What may sound like a pretty unspectacular holiday adventure is actually fully booked on Airbnb for years to come. Read More
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of Wigtown. Home to 900 people and roughly two hours’ drive from Glasgow on Scotland’s south-west coastline, it is probably only on the radar of truly avid Scottish readers.
Wigtown was officially named Scotland's first book town in 1998, and boasts no fewer than 14 bookstores, one for every 65 residents. And one independent shop is currently making history.
At the start of 2015, the Wigtownbookfestival launched the Open Book project with a unique help-wanted ad: “Wanted: Booksellers, no experience needed, for unique artistic project.” It has now moved beyond the annual festival to become a real holiday hit on Airbnb. Initially, artists, authors and literature lovers were encouraged to apply to run a bookshop in Wigtown for six weeks.
There was only one condition: they had to blog about the experience during their stay. The project has been so successful it shows no signs of stopping. If you are looking for a break from the hectic pace of daily life for a few weeks, this is the place to go - sleepy Wigtown.
Looking for break? Go to Wigtown!
The initiators of Open Book were inspired by American Jessica Fox, who happened to hear about Wigtown while planning a trip to recharge and gather some new ideas. Jessica was working as a filmmaker for NASA and owned her own production company, but she secretly dreamed of a life selling books far from her big-city life in Los Angeles. In her book "Three Things You Need to Know about Rockets," she describes the step that would change everything – both her for and later for Wigtown as well:
“My computer screen showed Google. ‘Used book shop Scotland’ waited patiently in the search box. I closed my eyes. I could see it as clearly as if I were there already. It would be a cold, wet day and I would be sitting with my feet resting against a long wooden counter. I would be worlds away from LA, in a small Scottish town right by the sea, enjoying a solitary afternoon in a bookshop. Wrapped in a large sweater, in my hands would be a torn copy of Pride and Prejudice, a dusty tome I had pulled out from the many shelves that surrounded me. The bookshop would be quiet and empty and my eyes would drift dreamily out of the window, taking in the green hills and the sea beyond.
‘This is insane.’ A little voice crept into my vision, its doubting tone breaking apart my dream, particle by particle, until it evaporated and my eyes fluttered open. My heart was beating so loud that I couldn’t tell if I was excited or terrified. Then a big voice thundered in... I could actually do this.”
Jessica wrote to one of the second-hand booksellers in Wigtown and asked if she could spend her vacation helping out in his store. He took her up on the unusual offer.
Book festival organizer Adrian Turpin was convinced that Jessica wasn’t alone in her longing for a different life, if only for a while. He put this theory to the test with The Open Book project, where interested parties can try their hand at selling books for a while without having to deal with the boring, administrative bits. It is more about an experience, a feeling - the smell and crackle of old paper and leather, the cosy atmosphere of a shop overflowing with old books, immersion in a different world far removed from the stress of everyday life. Through Airbnb, would-be booksellers book the flat right over the Open Book shop for 36 pounds a night.
36 pounds a night for a different life
Every guest is still encouraged to blog about what it’s like to sell books in this small Scottish town. Temporary shopkeepers describe life in Wigtown and the bookshop as a relaxing experience, a pleasantly boring holiday. “Being in between jobs, I didn’t need to think twice when I got the chance to run a bookshop in Scotland for six weeks. For a romantic Dutch city girl it was like ‘Notting Hill’ and ‘Braveheart’ came together,” Sigrid van der Laan from Holland wrote on the store’s blog. Sigrid was the very first tenant to try out the experiment. If you would like to learn about life in Wigtown, the blog should be your first port of call – the entries are as colourful as the Open Book guests are diverse. Many users have illustrated their reports with pictures of the shop, the surrounding area and themselves in front of the bookshelves. A shelfie gallery if you will.
The Open Book Store has no vacancies until 2020, but interested parties ask to be put on the waiting list in case there is a cancellation.
By the way, Jessica Fox stayed in Wigtown. She fell in love with the owner of "her" bookstore and they lived there happily ever after. But that, as they say, is another story altogether.