A letter in the local newspaper said that the free bookshop in Barnet (where I have been 'shopping' regularly alongside a host of other 'customers' from tiny children to ancient mariners) has closed down due to pressure from other shops in the shopping centre, who claimed it was an eyesore that lowered the tone of Barnet town centre.
Well, well, well.
This is a terrible shame. One of the men who ran it was truly awful, but the shop was irresistible and most of the people who worked there, all volunteers, were lovely. It was always busy, teeming with people, and I came away with some gems of books- a hagiographic Burl Ives biography complete with songs, for instance, and several really useful academic books.
I do hope that Waterstone's Bookshop wasn't party to the complaints. Situated just a few doors away, the staff there could maybe have felt that the free bookshop challenged their potential to make money.
However, from my point of view the opposite was true.
In a similar fashion to the way mp3 piracy actually leads to increased legitimate sales of music, I've become much more local-aware and book-aware since the advent of the free bookshop.
Instead of ordering all the birthday-present books from Amazon at the cheapest price possible, I went to the local Waterstone's and spent the money there, bringing back the books in a bag rather than having them shoved through the door in a cardboard sleeve by the letterbox-shy postman.
A good bookshop can be a gathering-place; I was watching a feature on the Ibis bookshop in Banstead, which is trying to survive by selling shares for £100. An elderly lady who had been relaxing in a comfy chair pointed out that people like her need high street shops. 'I haven't got the Internet', she said.
People like me need high street shops too. All those empty, greedy, soul-less estate agents and phone shops with desperate staff on commission bleed the life out of small towns; the charity shops, by comparison, are warm-hearted places with real people staffing them and real customers buying things. They are a quiet little revolution, recycling in a profligate world and making money for people who need it desperately.
Think again, Barnet retailers. There is room in the world for everyone!