12 Mar Find Us At Heffers
Many of you get in touch asking where our shop is in Cambridge, because you would like to visit. And we have always had to explain that in fact we don’t have one and that Cambridge Imprint is still a fairly shoestring enterprise run from our various kitchen tables and personal studios. (Though these days we have professional back-up from our small but perfectly-formed warehousing company in Bedford, who are the people responsible for packing and sending out all those lovely parcels.) So right now, like so many of you, as well as the feelings of alarm and concern about the health emergency, we are having to swallow considerable disappointment and feelings of thwarted destiny, because it has arrived just in time to scupper the launch of our rather beautiful, new, expanded space in Heffers bookshop on Trinity Street in the centre of Cambridge.
A couple of years ago Heffers asked if they they could stock our papers and, being natives of Cambridge, and therefore fully alive to the honour of this, we naturally said yes. Our initially modest area near the till in this wonderful bookshop has gradually grown over time. We are now to be found on the mezzanine floor in the centre of the shop, in a very much larger space, and as of this month you are able to see there virtually every type of notebook we make, many of our papers and labels, and all our cards.
Heffers is a beloved institution in Cambridge. The bookshop began trading over 140 years ago and has been in its present premises in the very centre of Cambridge, on Trinity Street just opposite the gates of Trinity College, since 1970. It is somewhat diminished since the glory days that we remember in our youth. (There were several Heffers shops with slightly different specialisms, including a marvellous stationery shop on several floors to be found on Sidney Street near the junction with Market Street, an art materials shop on King Street, the very first video rental store anywhere in the country, and most regretted of all, Heffer’s Children’s Bookshop, which was across the road from the main shop on the other side of Trinity Street and which sold every Puffin under the sun, in the days when that imprint was at its publishing height, and one slim but exciting volume could be purchased with a week’s pocket money.) But the main Heffers bookshop, in its perfect position and with its simple elegant shopfront and wonderful modernist interior, is, thank God, still reliably there, like an old friend.
(For some lovely reminiscences of Heffers back in the day, search out “This Book Is About Heffers” and also the blog of J E Bounford, who wrote it.)
In spite of competition from Amazon, Heffers trades on, and remains a blissfully civilised treasure-house of carefully chosen books. One can dart in on a five-minute errand (to buy the invaluable Heffers Desk Diary, for example: a prized object available only in September and without which some of our lives would disintegrate into utter chaos) and find oneself still there, browsing contentedly, hours later. In order to compete with the evil online empire already mentioned, they have diversified a little. Down in the basement, for example, is their extraordinarily comprehensive board games department, probably the largest in the country, staffed by enthusiastic experts who until this week ran a wildly popular ‘Board Games in the Bookshop’ night every couple of weeks that went on until the small hours. And we were very happy indeed to be another string to Heffers’ bow.
Now the strangely silent storm is upon us. The citizens of Cambridge seem to be behaving in, well, a very good citizen-like manner. Quietly going about their business at an appropriate distance from others, washing their hands often, they panic not, neither do they hoard. If we can maintain this behaviour then perhaps the streets will remain open and a curfew will not be necessary. In which case, if you live nearby, do consider dropping into Heffers: they need your custom. A shop, any shop, lives and dies by its customers. Heffers intends to remain open for as long as that is permitted — today it felt even more than usually like a sanctuary. And it looks like we may all have quite a bit of time to catch up on our reading in the months ahead.
Meanwhile at Cambridge Imprint we count our blessings: our lack of a shop turns out to be an advantage. The attention of the nation will be turned to weighty matters and it seems reasonable to assume that the market for patterned paper may not grow in quite the remarkable way that we have enjoyed in the past few years. But we have no premises whose costs we must cover, and so we remain a small but nimble guerrilla force, a scrappy insurgency, still working at our kitchen tables, and if you, dear customers, continue to order from us occasionally, we’ll trade on through this crisis and still be here next spring.
Last year Heffers asked us to design a Cambridge paper for them, and we were happy to oblige, coming up in the end with two designs, Cambridge Winter and Cambridge Summer. You can find the Cambridge Summer design in the shop now, in a variety of forms, including notebooks, tea towel, and portfolio. The pattern is based on the quintessential Cambridge lazy summer view of cows grazing on the water meadow by the river, with King’s’ College Chapel and a giant horse chestnut tree looming in the distance. It is printed in a Cambridge light blue and pale grey, except for the tea towel which is a brighter blue. It has been doing rather well, so other colourways may follow.