St Boswells ~ inside the “Best Small Shop in Britain 2018”
See inside The Mainstreet Trading Company, St Boswells
The Mainstreet Trading Company
St Boswells, the Scottish Borders
I love books. If you do too, then you should be planning a visit to The Mainstreet Trading Company in the pretty Borders village of St Boswells.
The Mainstreet Trading Company is a book-lovers paradise as well as being a cafe, deli, home store. It's been celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and it’s also just been named Britain’s Best Small Shop for 2018. A well-deserved award and recognition for an outstanding retail and customer service offering. I was there this summer, with my friend and sister-in-law Sara, so let me show you round.
Sara and I spent a weekend in St Boswells in late June, just one week after the 10th Birthday Party for The Mainstreet Trading Company. We were there for a short break in the wonderful Buccleuch Arms - just 2 nights - but we managed three separate visits to The Mainstreet Trading Company in that time. (That’s why the sky looks so different in some of my photos.) However, that still wasn’t enough time to soak all up all the good stuff that you’ll find here…
As usual, you can click on any of the images in the post to enlarge them.
The beautiful, sprawling premises of The Mainstreet Trading Company clusters round a pretty yard on the main street of St Boswells. It was previously the general store for this rural community and you can read more about its interesting history here.
Today’s owners Bill and Rosamund de la Hey have preserved some of the older signs and labels - inside and out - from the store’s previous incarnation and this adds to the charm and authenticity of today’s bright and welcoming retail and gastro hub.
Once inside the main door, you’ll be met by the most cheerful sights and sounds. The book shop opens out to the left whilst straight ahead is the bright and appealing cafe area. It had a lovely atmosphere, a gentle hub-bub of locals and visitors.
The cafe area has an inviting, relaxed vibe with comfy leather couches by the window, scrubbed wooden tables with mismatched chairs and a blackboard describing a drool-fest of fresh, local and delicious food.
Every table in The Maintreet Trading Company had a casual posy of mixed garden blooms, delicate and fragrant; there was a mouth-watering selection of home-made scones and cakes on display and welcoming staff who were happy to advise on the food and the local area.
The bookstore was the main attraction for me. It has been beautifully staged in handsome off-white shelving with attractive labels designating genre and featuring the charming logo of The Mainstreet Trading Company - a silhouette of a (book-carrying) hare. This logo is used most effectively in all aspects of the business; sometimes the hare carries a shopping bag, another time it’s a 10th anniversary balloon; it’s both stylish and endearing much like the place it represents.
The children’s section of the store is wonderful and clearly curated with love and a passion for the joy of reading. It’s an energising space full of tactile selections of picture books displayed at various heights and in thoughtful groupings that encourage you to get stuck in.
In the space that joins the two large rooms of the bookstore, you’ll find tiny book-nooks for younger children in under-stairs spaces. These are cosy and intimate ‘book burrows’ - this one themed with Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit - featuring CD players that provide story-telling on a loop: audio books for younger children. It’s an enchanting and entrancing idea and its beautifully executed, like everything else here.
Dotted around the bookstore are soft toys and gifts and it’s a delight to discover them tucked into shelves or balancing on books. There’s everything from dogs to birds to mice and pigs and each piece is excellent quality, a keepsake to treasure.
As well as books for all ages and interests in The Mainstreet Trading Company, the business also excels at Events and community outreach work. There are two book clubs (an evening and a daytime one); a monthly book subscription service to engage and entertain local and national bookworms; a mobile book-van (a quaintly re-purposed Citroen H) for schools’ visits and there are frequent author events. The bookstore’s pull is evident in the guest authors they host, with past guests including Michael Palin, Kirsty Wark, Michael Morpurgo, Diana Henry and John Simpson. Later this month, Chris Hoy and Kate Humble will visit. You can find out more about the Author Events, and who’s been or is booked, here.
The Mainstreet Company’s occasional newsletter is also slick, informative and always welcome and it is clear that good communications are at the heart of the excellent service provided here. The aim, it seems to me, is to be more than to offer just ‘good service’ to their customers - it is, rather, to delight and involve them; to befriend them.
The books, of course, are fabulous! The selection is impressive (particularly bold when you remember you’re in a small village in the Scottish Borders, but this is why it’s so intoxicating here - it’s disarming partly because it’s so unexpected). On display are current and classic best sellers, safe bets as well as quirky, cool and more curious options. Browsing at The Mainstreet Trading Company is a book-lover’s dream! And you can take your time, too; there’s no pressure but help if you need it.
On our first visit we didn’t get past the bookshop and left to catch our bus (another story for another day) but there is much more to The Mainstreet Trading Company than books, as their sign states. So the next day we came back to check out the cafe, deli and home sections.
This is the main deli counter, with its cheese display to set your pulse racing, and some of the produce and provisions you can try and buy. It’s a seriously good deli. Lots of gin in stunningly designed bottles, wines, dried and tinned goods, chocolates, honeys, coffees, etc, etc, etc. On one of my visits, owner Bill was behind the counter and we chatted for a while about bees and bee-keeping (they do). He was very helpful and encouraging about my plans to start a hive and it made me wish, like others that have visited, that we lived nearer.
And beyond the deli is the home section, tucked into the back building - as illustrated on the yard’s entrance sign.
The home store is all about quality, tradition, heritage and simple/slow living. Natural materials and traditional / handmade household products I haven’t seen for years (such as old-fashioned cleansers and kitchen implements) give this bit of the shop a nostalgic feel and it’s hard not to touch or covet all of the items in there. Candles, scarves, aprons, linens, pottery, pencils, wrapping paper, tins, lotions, string, baskets, cushions, throws, brooms, brushes, buckets and more. There’s a wonderful generosity in the displays - a casual abundance - that creates a calming and welcoming atmosphere and it’s a genuine pleasure to potter round.
Inside and out The Mainstreet Trading Company is so beautiful to look at. The styling is first class and the friendliness of the staff enhances the fantastic retail and food on offer here. This very special store (in my most favourite place) makes you feel welcomed and it’s no wonder that it’s been awarded the accolade of Britain’s Best Small Shop - a well-deserved way to celebrate turning 10 this year!
Huge congratulations to the owners and staff of The Mainstreet Trading Company and thank you for all the dedication and hard work that’s gone into creating this glorious place to shop, read, meet, learn, relax, eat, buy, share, imagine and be.
I absolutely love browsing in a bookshop and once spent 11 hours in a bookshop in London. I’m keen to hear of anywhere you would recommend spending a few hours’ browsing. It doesn’t have to have books and it doesn’t have to be in Scotland. Where’s good? A place that you just enjoy being in. Let me know in the comments below.
The Tripographer’s notes
Unslumping level? 10/10
Would I go again? Of course (I have already been back since June…).
Best time to go? Any time!
Best for? Books, cakes, lunches, friendly and knowledgeable staff, homewares, deli, marketing, displays, gifts, spending time, feeling better.
Top tip? Make time to soak it all up. We were in St Boswells for 2 nights and visited here three times and that wasn’t enough.