Every day is a good day for books. Welcome book lover, you are among friends. Once upon a time….. You’ll find all three of these statements written on the front of a new comer to the St James Street area of Walthamstow. At the top of station road, opposite cafe 56, and in between Big T’s Ghanaian restaurant and Sea Breeze, you’ll find the book cafe. The cafe, which has replaced Smurfin Connect (which I think was a hairdressers) opened last weekend, so it is very new indeed. I wandered past with the dog the other day, and being a lover of tea and books, I decided to pop in and have a nose around. What I found was probably one of the warmest welcomes I’ve had in a long time.
As I had the dog with me, the first thing I did was pop open the door and shout down to the lady behind the counter to ask if it was OK to take him in. She smiled, beckoned me in, and said in her heavy accent ‘Sit, make yourselves at home’. The dog went to work checking the floor for crumbs, and I sat and had a look around the shop. It took me a while to notice that I couldn’t actually read the covers of any of the books I could see. I’m dyslexic and sometimes it can take me a while to focus in on words, but this wasn’t one of those times. I couldn’t read them because non of the books I could see were in English. We are Bulgarian shop, but everyone is welcome, the Lady behind the counter said to me. Everyone is welcome, that’s a very nice thing to hear isn’t it?
My smiling host pointed out the shelves of English books at the front of the shop, and then asked what I wanted to order. I checked the menu which is on a blackboard behind the counter, and ordered a tea and cheese on toast, which came to a grand total of £1.80. The menu is pretty basic, but the prices are more than reasonable, I haven’t paid 90 pence for a cuppa in years. I chatted with the Lady as I demolished the cheese on toast (which was fantastic by the way). There was a tiny bit of a language barrier, but her English is much better than my Bulgarian, so we ended up having a good old natter. She told me about her love of books, the work she had done to get the shop open, and we even talked about Terry Pratchett. All the time she was friendly, full of smiles, and very attentive.
Sounds like the beginning of a joke doesn’t it, There was an English Man, a Bulgarian and a Chihuahua sitting in a cafe. Actually not a joke, but a non story behind a Daily Mail headline. SHOCK AS ALL BOOKS ARE BULGARIAN – Join our campaign to reclaim our High Streets (Or some such reactionary nonsense). One of the things I’ve always liked about Walthamstow is that there’s all sorts of people from all sorts of places, and we all rub along together pretty well. This little shop is one of the places where those different worlds collide and mix, and I love it. If a tabloid did write a headline about my trip to the book cafe, maybe it could be; Bulgarian Woman Says Everyone Is Welcome – Lets learn from her example.
I’ll be honest with you, I am a little worried for the shop. You can’t buy the books, so it’s more like a library that sells food and drink. I don’t know what they pay for rent or rates, but as the most expensive thing on the menu is £2.00, I reckon they are going to have to sell a lot of tea and toast to keep it going. I know that’s not for me to worry about, but this is one of those businesses that I could feel myself rooting for. The shop isn’t over engineered, it’s welcoming, and it’s something different, I genuinely hope it thrives and prospers. If you fancy a read, a cuppa, and some Bulgarian hospitality, the cafe is at 2 Station Road, and opens 10-7, seven days a week.