Hodges Figgis is Ireland’s oldest bookshop, celebrating its 250th birthday in 2018. This iconic store has moved around a lot since its founding in 1768, from Skinners Row, to Nassau Street and on to Dawson Street. But it has always been home for Dublin’s booklovers.
We spoke to Bookstore Manager, Tony Hayes to get to the bottom of what makes Dublin’s oldest bookshop a Dublin Treasure. Tony has worked in the book trade since the ‘70s and has in recent years returned to Hodges Figgis.
Hodges Figgis’ iconic storefront would not look out of place in J.K. Rowling’s Diagon Alley and the magic doesn’t stop when you venture inside. Four floors of solace for the Dublin reader await. Shelves stocked to the ceiling and themed tables overflowing with recommended reads welcome you. Fiction, biographies, crime, politics, history, gastronomy and even angels, whatever your interest it is catered for.
While many stores focus on doing one thing and doing it well, the range in Hodges Figgis is as diverse as its customers and this has been central to its success.
“We are lucky to have a great community of people who come into this store and we can provide almost everything that the customer requires… Mass market isn’t our focus. We focus on quality and we listen to our customers. What we stock is what our customers want”, Tony said.
This diversity is reflected in the tables of recommended reads dotted about the store. Each table is different, some playing host to special offers and others a theme. But what brings these tables to life is the pithy signs that accompany them featuring quotes, funny one-liners and witty headlines.
The sections are worth exploring for their décor alone if not for the books. The ceiling of the Travel section is strewn with paper airplanes made from maps and Crime has been turned into a crime scene with murderous silhouettes lurking above the books.
The children’s section resembles a carnival for book lovers. The ceiling is draped with colourful paper decorations and cuddly toys in hammocks while on the wall, letters spell out “once upon a time”. I’m sure that this place has been the start of a love affair with stories for many of Dublin’s little bookworms.
In fact, Hodges Figgis make a point of encouraging children to read, hosting events, book clubs and readings just for them. As a father himself, Tony is aware of the importance of encouraging children to read and is delighted with the growth in children’s literature in recent years.
“The range of books available to children now is incredible compared to 30-40 years ago. In fact, children’s book sales are up. Perhaps technology hasn’t touched them yet or maybe children still prefer the physical book. The physical action of reading is important – especially for a younger child. Where they can pick a book up, chew it, throw it on the floor, hold it upside down and the story, the pictures and the colours will still be there. Those things are almost as important as the reading itself.”
Irish literature has always been a priority for Hodges Figgis. “We stock everything from Irish nature to Irish poetry and drama and everything in between. Anything published in, on or about Ireland, we try to stock. We have the largest Irish department in the country”, says Tony.
This focus can also be seen in the portraits of Irish literary greats that line the staircases. Yeats, Wilde, Beckett and Joyce, they’re all here both on the walls and filling the shelves.
The real magic of the shop lies in its atmosphere, one of reverent but not stuffy quiet, where you can easily while away hours away from the bustle of the nearby city streets. Simply seek out a seat (or a deck chair if you happen to be in the travel section) and peruse away.
One visit should have you hooked and if it doesn’t, their generous loyalty scheme might keep you coming back for more of Hodges Figgis’ unique magic.