MARBELLA’S Puerto Banus has a reputation of being the kind of place where high-end shopping meets fancy restaurants, along with partying crowds hitting the nightclubs.
So stumbling across an independent English bookshop there, Bookworld Puerto Banus is something of a rarity and a joy for locals and tourists alike.
It’s nearly closing time on a weekday evening at Bookworld, where its owner, Mike Cowburn, is approached by a foreign family with youngsters, eager to buy books.
Other clients popped in to pick up orders or enquire about titles. After a pandemic, a lockdown and strict travel restrictions that paralyzed the entire world, the pace is slowly picking up again.
But it hasn’t been easy for Cowburn, who is originally from England, in recent years.
He says many of the bookshop’s regular British clients have left Spain for the UK because of the unstable situation caused by Brexit and the pandemic.
Whatsmore, it has become more costly for Cowburn to import books from the UK because of Brexit.
“I was against Brexit, but I couldn’t vote because I was here for too long. So now, you have to live with it,” he explains over the cashier, filled with bookmarks and calendars. “It’s affecting me quite a lot because I purchase 90% of my books from the UK, and getting them through customs – there are charges for that.”
Bookworld reopened its doors in May last year, but three of its restaurant neighbors, including the usually-packed Hard Rock Cafe, closed.
This led to a drop in the shop’s footfall. “It was quiet and you didn’t know what was going to happen,” he recalls. “It was tough everywhere and we didn’t get a lot of help from the government.”
Dealing with online competitors, who can deliver books to customers at a faster rate, is another obstacle to tackle.
Nevertheless, Cowburn has accepted the rules of the bookselling industry, which he has been a part of for nearly 20 years, and is carrying on welcoming clients, who relish physical books. “When people come in here, there’s a smile on their face,” he remarks on the shop’s cosy atmosphere.
Research has shown that people around the world have read more books during the pandemic. “I do notice a lot of people coming in here and saying, ‘I’ve read that, I’ve started reading a series..’ It’s got people back into reading,” Cowburn comments. “I see a lot more kids who come in and know what they want.”
Nestled away from the bustle of the port, Bookworld is the only independent bookshop in the area, providing English non-fiction, classics, cookery and school books, titles of Spanish interests, among others. It also appeals to young readers by stocking a wide variety of children’s books and board games.
Raised in a Manchester house where “there was always books,” Cowburn moved to Spain over thirty years ago and married a Spanish woman, a former teacher, who runs the bookshop with him.
It originally opened in 2004 and Cowburn took over when he bought the shop from its previous owner in 2013.
Despite all challenges and the fact that things might not go back to its busy, pre-pandemic state, Cowburn hasn’t considered closing or selling the store. He adds: “I’m in a position where I could hang on… This is my livelihood.”