These are difficult times for independent bookstores, but one shop which continues to weather the storm is Bradley’s, the only English-la...

Talking past, present and future with Bradley’s Bookshop

These are difficult times for independent bookstores, but one shop which continues to weather the storm is Bradley’s, the only English-language bookshop in Bordeaux and one of the city’s most respected literary outlets. On a suitably rainy Saturday morning, I met Anne-Françoise Mazeau, who owns and runs the business, and long-time attendant Juline Druillole to learn more about Bradley’s past, present and future.

Bradley’s was founded in 1983 by a couple of expatriate Australians, Pauline and Paul Carpenter. They moved into premises on Place Gambetta and, instead of simply calling it “Carpenter’s”, opted to give the brand new bookshop Pauline’s maiden name: Bradley. The Carpenters spent 20 years at the helm of the store until their retirement in 2003, when the business was taken over by Englishman Terry Vincent.

The former Cours d'Albret
store is now a salad bar.
By this time the shop had already moved to a new location on Cours d’Albret (the switch had occurred in 1995), where it would remain for a further nine years until Vincent decided to sell Bradley’s. At this stage Anne-Françoise Mazeau, who had already worked on a temporary basis for the shop, entered the picture, taking over the business in August 2012. She did not purchase the Cours d’Albret premises though, and Bradley’s moved overnight (literally!) to rented quarters on nearby Rue des Trois-Conils, which is where the store continues to trade.

Bradley’s stocks an impressively wide range of English Language Teaching (ELT) materials, fiction, non-fiction, children’s books and guidebooks, as well as a fine selection of DVDs and board games. “Our customers include university and business school students, teachers and adult education tutors, English-speaking expatriates and local parents on the lookout for authentic picture books to help their young children learn English,” Anne-Françoise explains. “A lot of tourists also come in looking for novels and guidebooks… which means that, unlike many other shops in Bordeaux, there’s no way we can close over the summer period!” Juline adds that in terms of revenues “ELT accounts for 60% of our business, but the books do tend to be more expensive. In terms of actual volumes, we sell more fiction”.

Bradley's ready for business early on a Saturday morning.
Of course, Bradley’s primary added-value is the tailored advice they can provide: “We regularly meet primary school teachers who are given very little guidance for their lessons. They come to Bradley’s seeking ideas and resources and we are only too happy to comply,” says Anne-Françoise. Another differentiator is the products themselves. As Juline points out, “the DVDs we sell are the UK editions and therefore feature different extras, audio and subtitling options to the copies available elsewhere in the city.”

Is this enough to fight against the rise of the online world though? Anne-Françoise acknowledges that it’s tough: “Students are given reading lists by their universities who often request expensive special editions, and we can’t compete with the likes of Amazon. It’s not a level playing field in terms of the discounts they are allowed to make. Many bookshops, including fellow independent stores here in Bordeaux, survive by hosting events and inviting writers for conferences and meet-and-greets. The problem we face is that French publishers do not want to work with us because we don't stock their books. And we’re too small and too far away for overseas publishers to take any interest in us.”

There are notable exceptions though. Juline points out that “we’ve been in contact with Éditions Didier for over a year now though, and hosted Rupert Morgan at the Le Bouscat Salon du Livre Jeunesse in March 2013. We hope he will be able to be present at the Escale du Livre book fair in April this year. Rupert leads the series Paper Planes and Paper Planes Teens which are written by English writers specifically for French people learning English.”

Looking around the shop, while the middle photo shows Anne-Françoise and Juline.
One further hurdle is the lack of local cultural partners. Juline mentions the Spanish-language bookshop in Bordeaux, Contraportada, which faces the same challenges as Bradley’s, “but can at least count on the support of the Institut Cervantès Spanish cultural centre. Sadly, we no longer have the British Council here in Bordeaux, although we did work with the Council’s Paris offices on an event in 2012 commemorating the 70th anniversary of Operation Frankton: Lord Paddy Ashdown gave a conference that was held at Centre Jean Moulin.”

So where does Bradley’s go from here? One solution to the internet threat is to fight back by developing an enhanced online presence! Juline points out that “we have a new website featuring a secure payment system and hope it will bring more customers and visibility throughout France. Previously we only sold ELT resources online but the website now covers all our stock.” The shop’s Facebook page also forms an integral part of this quest for a stronger online profile.

Anne-Françoise believes the sustainability of the business can additionally be consolidated by developing closer ties with academia and local councils: “Partnerships of the like can result in high-volume orders, so we’re targeting a number of establishments, particularly “post-Baccalauréat” higher education schools.”

Before heading back into the rain, I asked Anne-Françoise and Juline what they were currently reading. Anne-Françoise has just finished a Douglas Kennedy novel: “We have plenty of them here so we need to read them first,” she joked. Juline has just started a book by classic science fiction author Jack Vance, having recently completed Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, an ambitious trilogy for young adults.

The way they then speak so eloquently and evangelistically about their current reading is worth more than a thousand Amazon customer reviews. I left the shop solemnly promising myself that I would hitherto favour Bradley’s and fellow independent outlets for my future book purchases – otherwise the support, advice and shopping experience these businesses provide could soon be a thing of the past.
Big thanks to Anne-Françoise Mazeau and Juline Druillole for taking the time out to meet me!

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