Seeking context is important. For the St Andrews student, seeking the context of his or her day-to-day life means looking to local businesses. Students and townspeople love the local St Andrews spots. However, adequately embracing and expanding contextual knowledge means not just visiting these stores, but learning of their stories, values and owners, starting with Bouquiniste.
I first heard of this local, family-owned, bookstore when my brother gifted me credit to the shop, the summer before my first semester at St Andrews. At this point, I knew little of the town. I pictured St Andrews from what I saw in the one brief day-long visit I took, the year prior to my matriculation, and from what I saw online. When I arrived in St Andrews, Bouquiniste was one of my first stops.
The shop, situated towards the eastern end of Market Street, contains beautifully bound and displayed used books. The store fills its wall-to-wall shelves with a variety of genres, but mainly British non-fiction, broader history texts, and more classical literature. I gradually developed a relationship with the local shop, using it as an outlet to learn more about my new town. One day I met Bill Anderson, one of the family owners. He recommended various texts to me, helped me find gifts for friends and members of my family, and answered questions I had about the store’s stock. Recently, I had the pleasure of asking Bill some questions, so students could learn more of this important local stop, not just through my observations and various selections, but through the curator of the store himself.
Q: When did Bouquiniste first open? A: “We opened on the 5th of July 1982 so we’ve been open for 40 years this summer.” Q: Has the shop always been at its Market Street location? A: “Yes, we ran a bookstall before opening, but have always had the shop premises at the same place.” Q: Who currently runs the business? Has owning and running Bouquiniste always been the primary profession for those working for the shop? A: “Myself, my wife and my daughter mostly. I was an English teacher but retired from teaching some years ago. Bookselling is something people rarely retire from.” Q: Who are your most consistent customers? Golfers? Townspeople? Students? A: “Local regulars, students and tourists. Being in St Andrews we do have a golf section which is quite popular.” Q: What type of books does Bouquiniste usually buy in? A: “We specialise in Scottish and the Arts but we also buy a wide variety of books including fiction paperbacks and children’s books.”
Q: What types of books does the business (or you, specifically) recommend to university students at St Andrews? Are there any specific books worth noting? A: “I usually recommend good quality literature and I would struggle to pick a favourite. We also recommend books on St Andrews and we often have some unusual ones.”
To further understand what makes Bouquiniste different to other used bookstores, or from Topping’s and Waterstones, for that matter. I asked what types of books the shop might choose not to stock, or why Bouquiniste might not be the place to acquire a copy of the window-spot Watersones pick or the latest Sally Rooney novel. I learned of the shop’s more educational approach to the student selection:
Q: Are there types of books Bouquiniste prefers not to stock (specific genres, contemporary novels, etc.)? A: “Possibly surprisingly for a university town, we don’t stock many textbooks, due to our size, and the fact they quickly go out of date. We do sell general second-hand books on subjects such as English, Art, History, Philosophy, and Classics, which are affordable to students. Alongside this we specialise in Antiquarian and rare books.”
Local St Andrews businesses know St Andrews so well not only because of their roots (or, as in the case of Bouquiniste, their specialties on the scholarship regarding the town’s history) but also because they’ve just been here longer. They’ve witnessed the trends of the town, and they’ve engaged with the communities that have come and gone. Curious how Bill and Bouquiniste navigate the evolution and development of the town, I asked my final question:
Q: As a long-standing, successful, local business, what has it been like to witness the changes and development of the town over past decades? A: “St Andrews has become more and more popular as a destination and the University has grown. As a business you can’t really complain about extra people being around. You just have to adapt to the changes thrown at you over the years and at least old books can be relied on not to change too much.”
This sentiment I consider necessary to highlight. Time demands local shops manage change and deal with the tides of community development. Bouquiniste adapted with patience and faith in the comfort and consistency of stocking timeless texts, that allow you to know more of this town. It’s easy to love and enjoy Bouquiniste. I’m not the only student who feels this way. But learning more closely about the store’s values and stock policies allowed me to deepen my understanding of the context surrounding everyday student life. Seeking this contextual knowledge revealed to me an underlying truth in the St Andrews experience: to love this town is ultimately to love its local spots.
If you’re interested in learning more about Bouquiniste, feel free to follow the shop on instagram @ bouquinistebookshop, or check out their website bouquiniste- bookship.com for other inquiries.