A brummy’s thoughts on the new Foyles Birmingham

The outside of the new Foyles in Birmingham's Grand Central station.
The outside of the new Foyles in Birmingham’s Grand Central station.

Today marks the opening of the first Foyles branch in Birmingham. As I’m from Birmingham* and have lived there for 80% of my life (0-18 there, 18-21 in Newcastle for University, 21-22 – my age now – in London for my Turnaround job), I thought I’d chime in with my thoughts on the matter.


The bookshops I was aware of as an introverted, chain-reading teenager were:

Ian Allen, a specialist trainspotting book and model rail shop.

HMV, obviously primarily a music shop, though if I remember correctly, they always inexplicably had the complete works of Brett Easton Ellis laid out available to buy by the till.

BMAG (Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery), mainly an Art Gallery, but I remember buying an amusing flick-book that showed the Rotunda lifting off and swooping around the sky for a bit on a school trip once, alongside a pink rubber pencil that smelled of cherries.

The MAC, another art gallery. If you lived near Cannon Hill Park, which I didn’t, and had more than £5.00 weekly expendable income, which I didn’t, then you could go here to buy beautiful £30.00 coffee table books about European impressionist painters.

Forbidden Planet, a national chain of comic book and sci-fi interest memorabilia stores with a branch on Bull Street – right by where I used to get off my first bus from Handsworth and wait for my connector to get home to Erdington after school. I went in there a lot. Especially when it was raining.

And, of course, big Waterstones on New Street. Wondrous, wondrous big Waterstones. Sprawled over 6 floors with endless nooks and crannies to get lost it. Big enough that you needed no opening gambit to go in. No, ‘hello, what kind of trains are you interested in’ to answer too. No knowledge of the history of Doctor Who, or impressionism. Just some time to kill.

Waterstones New Street Branch
Inside Waterstones’ New Street branch.

I love Doctor Who and impressionism. I even love trains. I loved, and still do love all of these smaller book shops. I do feel, however, that as an amalgam they create a book scene that makes it difficult for broke teenagers to browse. To find things without feeling intimidated by a lack of prior knowledge of expertise. As a teenager I felt that, unless you knew exactly what you wanted already, there was nowhere to go except big Waterstones. The UK’s second city should really have more options than that.

Cross section of Foyles' Charing Cross Road branch.
A cross section of Foyles’ Charing Cross Road branch.

Foyles is the UK’s largest chain of independent book stores (they are all owned by the family of Christopher Foyle – no corporate interests involved). They have London branches on Charing Cross Road, in Westfield and at The Royal Festival Hall and Waterloo Station, one branch in Bristol and now one in brum. My favourite things about my most-familiar Foyles branch – Charing Cross Road – are the indy graphic novel and zines section, which features work from Foyles’ own bookseller Patrick Wray. That and the section dedicated to ‘Literary Memoir,’ a subgenre of life-writing I’ve loved for a long time but not known was a ‘thing’ until I saw books divided up in that way at Foyles.

I hope Foyles Birmingham works to provide a place that’s an ‘in’ to the breadth of the written world for the city’s citizens.

(post by Clara)

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