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A Nostalgic Goodbye to Waterstones, Dawson Street

06/02/2011

Goodbye, Waterstones, Dawson Street branch « The Anti-Room.

Antonia Hart’s piece on The Anti-Room Blog about Waterstones of Dawson Street, which closes its doors today for the last time, expresses the feelings of many. I will miss the browsing, followed by musing in the Reader’s Cafe and then more browsing. A perfect spot for literary rejuvenation is now no more.

In for a Penny, In for a Pound

Fifty jobs have just gone in Waterstones, between the Dawson Street and Jervis Street branches, and at the risk of sounding rather E.J. Thribbish, I’d like to mark the passing of the Dawson Street one in particular.

When I were a lass, it was a large Laura Ashley shop which occupied that Dawson Street premises, with a huge and beautiful central staircase and a railed gallery stuffed with bolts of green and white cotton prints and rolls of impossibly smart striped wallpaper (look, it was the early eighties). I’m fairly sure that before Laura Ashley it was the old Dublin furniture firm Anderson, Stanford and Ridgeway – at any rate, in the mid eighties Waterstones opened there, bringing a touch of glamour to Dublin’s bookshop selection, which up to that point had been dominated by Hodges Figgis, Fred Hanna and Easons, and supplemented by a solid lineup of secondhand and antiquarian shops, like Duffy’s, George Webb on the quays, and the dusty wooden stairs of Greene’s where endless Everyman editions of nineteenth century classics rubbed shoulders with geometry sets and rubber dinosaurs.

Waterstones brought a clean, modern shop layout that was unlike anything I knew in the city centre then, its restrained W branding a hymn to the serif typefaces in which its books were set.  And despite its being part of a chain (nul points for romance) and a British one at that (just nul points), Waterstones in Dawson Street always felt like a Dublin shop. The staff, an unfailingly civil bunch of low-voiced smilers, knew their books and made their customers feel that their query was an important one. Even today, I heard one of them giving his full and thoughtful attention  to an elderly lady about buying a book in French for her fifteen-year-old granddaughter, when with only three days of work left he could have been forgiven for drinking blood cocktails under the stairs.

I had fifty-odd euro saved up on my loyalty card, so I went in today to spend it and say goodbye to the shop, which is trading until Sunday, and when I’d paid for my books, the staff member who completed the transaction for me popped a red-foiled chocolate egg (of creamy, luxurious quality) into the paper bag along with the books.

“Just to say thanks for your loyalty,” she said, on behalf of the chain which had just made her redundant.

Someone had brought in scones from Kehoe’s – that cafe in Trinity Street which sells rock-bun sized scones injected with raspberries – and everyone was to get one when it was their turn for a break. The shelves were as well stocked as ever – apart from the cardboard Jo Nesbo stand – and the usual three-for-two selections were on offer, along with the current BOGOF on children’s picture books. It was easy enough to get my spend up to fifty euro.

Jervis Street was a difficult shop to be in, too many funny angles and a downstairs that was hardly there. But I’ll miss Dawson Street’s Irish history and biography section, their ordinary biography section, the children’s area, the substantial fiction selection, even that unappetising little loo in the most awkward corner of the shop. No, now I’m getting sentimental, I won’t miss that. I was reeled in, as intended, by the staff’s handwritten notes of recommendation, stayed loyal with my card, did a good chunk of my Christmas and birthday shopping there over the last twenty-four years. It was a meeting place, too, in the style of Clery’s clock, but with more to do while you wait. I’ve kissed and been kissed in that tiny lift.

I took it for granted, and from Sunday it won’t be there any more. I hope all the staff members find new jobs soon, and that someone interesting takes over the premises.

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  1. Matthew Perren
    06/02/2011 at 9:50 pm

    A wonderful shop. I knew lots of the original staff when it opened and, later, I was Waterstone’s Regional Manager for Ireland and Scotland (only an English firm would think THAT was a match). I never visited without making an unplanned purchase of some wonderful book that had caught my eye and my imagination.

    In it’s day it was one of the best bookshops I knew. I’m so, so sad to see it go.

  2. 07/02/2011 at 12:09 am

    Very sad news indeed.

  3. 07/02/2011 at 7:53 am

    Yes, it was a sad day yesterday. I think what is most sad is to see a group of people with such a knowledge of and interest in books out of work. It seems that Waterstones put a lot of effort and care into staff selection. We can only wish them well on the employment front and in finding on outlet for their knowledge of books and writing.

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