A good book shop should be an escape, and Max Minerva’s, the new independent bookshop on North View in Westbury Park, is no exception. Outside a chilly autumnal breeze blows, but inside is warm, and despite the bookshop not officially opening for a few more days, locals keep wandering in and admiringly brushing their fingers against the beautifully displayed novels.
The shop is elegantly designed, with every last detail impeccable. Lingering customers can relax on the comfy yellow cushions by the window, whilst flicking through potential purchases.
Max Minerva’s is run by Jessica Paul with the help of her husband, Sam Taylor, and five-year-old daughter Aria. The building was formerly the home of Durdham Down Bookshop, which sadly closed in 2016 after the owner passed away.
Married couple Jessica and Sam moved to Henleaze around the time of its closure. A little while after, Sam saw a sign from the letting company asking locals to put notes through the letterbox saying what they wanted the empty shop to become. Jessica and Sam, like many residents, asked for a bookshop, and since they were the only ones offering to run it, the building fell into their hands.
The bookshelves in Max Minerva’s are already adorned with contemporary fiction, classics, non-fiction, children’s titles, YA reads, and graphic novels.
Peeking around the corner of the main room is the shop’s children section, a soothing, playful space where a Gruffalo soft toy guards the stationery and gifts that surround him.
“We always wanted to have a good children’s section,” says Jessica, going on to talk about how a report she read last year showed that the number of children reading on Kindles is dropping; instead they are turning to the tactility of physical books.
Jessica and Sam will also launch a series of creative writing classes for children, held in Max Minerva’s and run by a local author and friend of theirs. The couple are dedicated to improving literacy rates among children. Jessica insists that parents must “take reading out of the school setting” and suggests that parents play games with reluctant young readers, such as guessing the story from picture books. “As soon as it clicks, reading opens up a whole world for them,” she says.
On the opposite wall is a bright orange quote by A Series of Unfortunate Events author Lemony Snicket: “All the secrets of the world are contained in books. Read at your own risk.” This is certainly the place for children to unleash their imaginations.
However, the shop is for adults too. Chatting with her first few customers, Jessica orders in a Thomas Hardy novel for a local and enthusiastically discusses the Netflix adaption of Alias Grace with another.
Max Minerva’s will regularly host author readings and signings, both with Bristolian writers who Jessica says “always have such interesting stories to tell”, and touring writers from further afield.
“Bookshops are a comfort thing,” Jessica continues. She wants to offer a personal service that chains like Waterstones simply can’t provide. Over the next few months, Jessica aims to spend her time learning the names of regulars and getting a sense of what Bristolians want to read.
The location of Max Minerva’s is very important for Jessica because Henleaze and Westbury Park are her family’s local neighbourhoods, and she wants to change the fact that there are so few independent bookshops in Bristol.
She’s aware of the struggles that independents suffer in the book market, competing against industry giants who offer discounts that family businesses simply can’t afford, but Jessica remains poised and confident. “The challenge is getting the word out,” she says. “We really rely on community support.”
This street is full of independent shops, which are all doing better than ever, Jessica reassures, and seeing the delighted faces of Henleaze residents coming in to thank her for resurrecting their local bookshop, Max Minerva’s Marvellous Books seems here to stay.
To plan your visit, go to www.maxminervas.co.uk