While the market is closed due to coronavirus, we’re running a regular series of profiles of the wonderful traders who make and sell your favourite Levy Market products. Just who are these individuals who have an idea for a business they want to create and the passion to give it a go? And how do they get from that stage to being at an award-winning community market, where you, the customer, get to make a purchase from them?
This time round, we speak to Suzy Prince, known to Levy Market regulars as the friendly face behind Bopcap Books, our regular bookstall. Suzy is the co-owner of Bopcap which last year took a step up, making the leap from market stall to Levenshulme’s very own bricks-and-mortar bookshop, opening just down the road from us in Levenshulme Antiques Village. However, their stall has continued to be a regular at the market, supplying the reading public of Levenshulme with a note-perfect selection of secondhand books.
Suzy, hello! Tell us a little bit about Bopcap Books and how you came to be such a fixture at Levy Market
Bopcap is a curated secondhand and rare bookseller, with some cards and stationery on top. We were selling online already, when I first took on a stall at Levy market. I was one of the early ones: a pioneer from outside the borough! My stall originally sold mostly greeting cards, stationery and other stuff, but then we started adding a box or two of books into the mix, and quickly noticed that these were attracting loads of interest. At the time the market was themed each week, and on ‘vintage’ week we had no vintage or secondhand stock unless we sold these books, so that was another motivator.
From this, and trading on a really regular basis so we got to know our customers, the bookselling part just got bigger and bigger, and after a couple of years it became the main focus of what we do. We’ve now moved into a shop in the Antiques Village.
Is the market and the bookshop what you do full-time?
I am an editor and a writer as my ‘day job’ – I recently published Actual Size Magazine which ran for five issues. It was a magazine for intelligent, creative women and was immediately picked up by loads of big shops and chains, and sold all over the world. All very prestigious, and it sold really well, but the reality was that the distribution model meant that despite all of this I lost a ton of money.
Ian, who is co-owner of Bopcap, is a graphic designer, but now increasingly works on Bopcap full time as it gets busier. For a writer-editor and a designer to start dealing in books is no great surprise. A few years ago we actually co-wrote a book for Bloomsbury, called The Graphic Art of the Underground. This means that about 0.00000000001% of the profit made by JK Rowling’s books came our way.
How enjoyable is it running a bookstall at an outdoor market?
I love books: chatting to people about books, seeing what books people buy.
We believe that in a world where so many things are available so readily, secondhand and rare books can still give people that all-important ‘hunter gatherer’ feeling. Books are of course one of the greatest physical products ever, and preloved books just have such a joy about them: who owned it before you? What’s the story? We only sell books in our shop and on our stall that we’ve carefully selected from those we obtain: hence the ‘curated’ part.
I also love the fact that you meet so many people that you wouldn’t meet in a million years otherwise, sometimes because they are your fellow traders – Cumbrian cheese farmers, Japanese artists, jewellery makers, fairtrade sellers, candle makers, auctioneers who sell vintage as a sideline – sometimes because they are our customers, and sometimes because we’re buying books from people.
Is that how you find the books you sell?
In recent months I’ve visited the house of a recently deceased elderly man whose brother had inherited the property and contacted us to clear the books. He said ‘I have to warn you, there are one or two books here’. We arrived to find floor to ceiling shelving on all four walls of every room in the house, with books doubled up on most. We had to go away and hire a huge van!
What are the downsides to bookselling at an outdoor market?
Slow and wet days on the market are the worst, and there’s no getting around that, however much fellow traders keep each others’ spirits up. Mostly it’s just the day to day challenge of trying to make ends meet and pay yourself an OK wage to do this. I would love to do this full time, but there’s no way that I can just yet for financial reasons.
Another downside of secondhand bookselling is that the author and publisher don’t get paid again when their book resells, and in a world where so many authors and publishers are struggling to make a living, we are aware that this is a problem. Our entire ethos is about supporting and promoting books and those who sail with them.
How is the lockdown era treating you?
We’ve devoted a lot more time and attention to our website which had been woefully neglected – lots more photographing books. Of course we are absolutely gutted that we opened a shop, that was doing way better than expected, almost from day one, and have now had to close it again temporarily, with no idea what the future holds. And we’re unable to book back to trade at the market, for now at least. And of course we can’t visit anyone’s property to buy books, so that’s been a shame.
Levy Market has been around for a while now. Have you noticed any changes that markets have undergone since you began trading with us?
There are too many of them now! Or there are in bigger cities like Manchester. I tried out trading at several of them a few years ago, but pulled it right back in and now stick with Levy only: it was a suburb in need of a bookshop so here we are. Having said that, I really welcome the fact that these kinds of markets are springing up in smaller places. As a child of the Peak District, I would have loved to have something like this to visit when I was growing up. And I think that one thing that markets are absolutely brilliant for is that they give people a space to try something out without breaking the bank.
Has Levy Market changed your relationship with the area?
Yes, in that I barely knew Levenshulme at all before I started trading here. I live in Firswood, the land that time forgot. Few people have ever heard of Firswood – even people who have lived in Manchester all their life. I’d only been to Levenshulme a couple of times, but because of the market I started spending more time there and I now know, understand and love the place. And I’ve explored the beautiful side and back streets much more. I don’t think that Levenshulme will ever quite ‘arrive’ in the way that the press have been trying to tell us it will for years, but to me that is its absolute charm: there really is something for everybody there. And the market pulls all of that together and gives people a central hub to hang out in. I like the fact that customers at the market are a mix of people who live in Levenshulme, and people who’ve travelled from further afield.
AND REMEMBER. We have an ongoing database of all the regular traders you’d usually find at Levy Market but who are instead currently delivering their products direct to customers’ homes. This is a trying time for many small businesses so rest assured that by making a purchase you’d be doing your bit to support someone’s livelihood.