The Society Club

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Meet George Packe-Drury-Lowe, Events Director at the independent bookshop, The Society Club, which is located in Soho, one of Central London’s most exciting and unique areas. We sat down for a talk with George about running a bookshop with a related members club, their collection of first edition books, such as Sherlock Holmes, the courage to do things differently, and how to get yourself and your noticed work.

Hello, George! Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Could you please walk us through the story of “The Society Club” from the beginning until today?

George: We started about three years ago, and we’ve evolved a lot since then.
We used to have a long table down the middle of the shop, and people would come by for tea and cakes, and also to read and buy books. We now have a cocktail bar as well, so people can still enjoy a latté with a book, but they can also enjoy a classic Martini or Old Fashioned if they prefer.
Babette is the owner and founder. Babette IS The Society Club. She has a background as a stylist and has an amazing eye for every detail, which the Society Club’s beautiful look can be attributed to. She also has a great eye for books.

What does a typical day look like for you in the bookshop?

George: There’s probably no typical day, because of the nature of the place. It’s always different. When coming into the shop you will, on most days, be greeted by Babette’s three dogs, who snooze around the shop. Throughout the day, people come in and look at the books, buy books, and sit and chat. Then, at six o’clock, we become a members club and if you’re a member, you can come in and have a cocktail or a glass of wine. The only requirement for membership is that you have a love for books and this is reflected in how our membership works. Membership costs £175 for the year and this fee acts as credit towards the books, in other words, a member gets £175 worth of books.

Can you tell me a little more about the members club?

George: We don’t have any stuffy rules, like a lot of members’ clubs do. There’s no dress code, and our membership consists of a great mix of people. There are a lot of creative people here.
It’s a sort of “Beat” haven for people to relax, but on Friday nights things usually get quite wild, since Friday night is our poetry night. We have lots of young and old writers coming in from all over London to showcase their poetry, in an intimate setting. Often, we’ll have musicians play their songs, and the place will be buzzing with jazz, the chatter of people, and it is like being hit by an explosion of this warmth and sound at the same time.
Our poetry night is for everyone. Our poetry nights are run the fantastic Chip Martin who acts as compare and truly gives the night its individual atmosphere. We’re not closed off to people. If people want to read prose or recite some old favourite like Byron, we’re absolutely for that, and we completely encourage anyone. I think our poetry nights are a great vector for people who want to express themselves. We recently published a poetry anthology which features work from the last year.

Tell us a bit about the process of finding new books? Where do you buy them, and which qualities does a book have to have in order to get shelf-space in your bookshop?

George: We have all sorts of books that we believe fall under the category of essential reading. And it’s not too over-organized. The other day I wrote to the people that work here, “We use a chaos method of filing,” because we have sections of poetry, 1st editions and art books and so on, but within the sections, the titles are fairly higgledy-piggledy. I think the same principle comes into play when we’re looking for books, because we have an incredibly eclectic collection. We have a Soho section, which is books about the local area. We also have a poetry section, as I’ve said, and then we have a cabinet at the far end of the shop which contains rare first editions and collectables. We’ve got first editions of “Sherlock Holmes,” “The Jungle Book,” and “Winnie the Pooh,” We have some really lovely books in there. I wouldn’t say there’s a set type of book we look for, but it must be interesting or sexy. We like sexy here, and we do have an Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll section, which has some of our most popular books. We showed an explicit film by Jean Genet last week, so you can see that our love of sexy literature is not even restricted to the space between hard covers!

What defines your audience at The Society Club?

George: I don’t like to think that we are too selective of who we target, but I’d say that one characteristic that is pretty common to our members is that most have a love of a slightly bygone era of Soho. Others just love literature and books, and it’s a great place to come for that. I think people really appreciate the relaxed nature of the place – we’re not one of the big impersonal shops; we’re quite the opposite. We get artists and photographers, whom we sometimes exhibit such as Tim Noble, Derek Ridgers and Tom Maryniak. Tom also works behind the bar. There is such talent around! Sophie, who works in the shop, is writing a novel, and I’m a musician. We get all sorts of creative people coming into the shop of all ages but it doesn’t matter because they’re engaged in the same common viewpoints that are transcendent of age.

Which market and sales channels do you use at The Society Club, to reach out to your audience?

George: We do mail-outs, and we have different lists that we mail to. We have a list for events, which are just for members, and also a general list, which is for people who sign up to be informed about non-member’s events. We use Instagram to post pictures of books as they come in, and for us it’s a great platform to get a wider audience to see our books. But with most enterprises like this we rely on word of mouth, and that is growing and growing, because our friends and our fans seem to really appreciate what we are doing.

Where do you see books and technology in the future?

George: I definitely don’t think the bound, paper book, the physical, tangible book, will die out anytime soon, or ever in fact. Where I see a place for technology such as Kindles, and these sorts of handheld devices, personally is when traveling. I went on a trip for a few months with my best friend, and I took about four books with me, but they weighed me down. I went through them in about two weeks, and I was a very jealous of my friend who had this amazing little Kindle, it weighed nothing, took up no space in his backpack, and he was able to download a new book every day! I definitely see a place for both in the future, because both the physical book and the eBooks fulfill different needs, and the use of one does not exclude the other.

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