“PEOPLE say that the sign of a thriving town is to have an independent bookshop on the high street,” says Mike Sansbury, manager of The Grove Bookshop, which for more than 40 years has sat proudly on its corner spot in Ilkley’s most well-known and elegant street.

“If not an independent bookshop then Waterstones is the next best thing. A bookshop brings together people who all have different interests to browse and buy books. There is a special atmosphere in a bookshop.”

Opened in November 1979 by local couple Mr and Mrs Townson - who were determined that it should be on The Grove and nowhere else - the shop occupies an important place in the community.

“You could tell how important it is from the reaction during the first lockdown,” says Mike. “People were stopping me in the street and asking when we were re-opening.”

As well as its staple product, the shop stocks goods such as calendars, diaries, tote bags and cards.

Selecting books to sell and promote involves background research in many different areas. “We talk to publishes and reps, who tell us what the big new titles are, we look at lists and catalogues, keep aware of bestsellers, read reviews and buy books focusing upon certain interests such as sport, walking, and local interest,” explains Mike.

“We think carefully about what sorts of books will appeal to people. If booksellers get to know their customers well they get a feel for their interests - if I see a new publication I know who in Ilkley would like it. We have customers who have been coming here for many years.”

Lockdown has seen a rise in the popularity of “light, uplifting fiction with a happy ending, and classics that people have read before and want to read again.”

Mike himself revisited books by Graham Greene and re-read his favourite book A Time of Gifts by British author Patrick Leigh Fermor.

“We have also been selling a lot of travel books, as people cannot go anywhere, and crime thrillers. We have sold a lot of ‘cosy crime’, like Frances Brody’s Kate Shackleton mysteries set in Yorkshire, and the Dales Detective series by Julia Chapman. They are light, very readable, funny and entertaining with no brutal murders and no blood and gore.”

The Grove Bookshop plays a major role in Ilkley’s famous annual Literature Festival, which this year, due to the pandemic, was held online.

“There are about 200 events over 17 days and we are the official booksellers,” says Mike. “We set up bookstalls at at least 100 of those events - during the day we man the shop and then in the evening we are present at various locations across the town such as King’s Hall, Ilkley Playhouse and St Margaret’s Church.”

Books on sale are linked to events. An author may be giving a talk followed by a book signing.”

Having been closed for three month last year the shop lost a lot of sales. “Also the festival did not happen, but month on month, last December sales were up around ten per cent,” says Mike. “People are keen to support bricks and mortar businesses.”

A bookseller for 22 years, Mike has worked at The Grove for five years and been manager for ten.

His staff are made up of assistant manager Amy, Carol, who had worked there for more than 20 years, “tech man” Neal, Korina, Chloe, Ellen and Nikki.

Former design student Korina keeps the window displays up to date and eye-catching.

During the first lockdown staff began working on their existing website, paving the way for books to be sold online.

By the time of the second lockdown, the new website was up and running. The shop also ran a click and collect service and home deliveries.

A combination of web sales, Bookshop.org commission and click and collect service enabled the shop to keep a high profile during the third lockdown.

Since reopening The Grove has kept its sanitisers and distancing arrangements. “And we keep an eye on customer numbers in order to maintain a safe shopping environment,” says Mike. They have made a few changes: “Our music shop is now dedicated to sheet music rather than CDs, and the downstairs has been transformed into an expanded travel books space.

“Our customers have supported us throughout lockdown and it has been great to be able to welcome them again. We hope to re-start our events programme, starting with a signing by Julia Chapman in June or July.

“Earlier this year we held a Zoom event with Sussi Smith who read from her new book of poems and attended a book signing,”

Mike enjoys visiting bookshops. “I like to see how the books are displayed and which are on sale. I often go to Salts Mill and browse around with my note book.”