On the evening of November 16, 2021, a warehouse filled with more than 400,000 used and rare books belonging to Berwyn Books from Buckley near Chester in the UK was totally destroyed by a fire. It was a devastating blow for the business with countless rare editions lost in the blaze.
At the time, Berwyn Books and its sister company the Cheshire Book Centre was a well-established online bookselling business serving customers across the UK and overseas too.
However, a new version of the business is literally rising from the ashes. The original owner decided to step away after the fire, while several of the employees wanted to carry on and rebuild. Emma and Adam Littler, and Katrina Matthews are the new owners of what was formerly Berwyn Books and is now the Berwyn Bookshop.
Listen to our interview with Berwyn Bookshop
Remarkably, the Berwyn Bookshop opened for business two months after the fire thanks to support from their local community, who provided books and a new location in a community art centre in the nearby town of Mold.
“It was a terrible night,” said Emma Littler. “I was the first person there and it was obvious that it wasn’t a small fire. It was huge. There were probably 60 firemen and about 10 fire engines.
“There was nothing left. The building was condemned. It was obvious that there’d be nothing to save. In hours, it was all gone. It was catastrophic. Just debris, nothing left in terms of the books – just the outer-walls of the building. We were shocked. We lost a lot of books of historical value. There is no way to describe how much was lost.”
Adam, who is Emma’s husband, said: “The fire was devastating for everyone involved. The owner had built up the business over 30 years. His life’s work was gone overnight and he wanted to step away. We wanted something to look forward to. Something positive. Eventually the owner gave his blessing for a new business to be born and for us to use the Berwyn name to honour it.
“After all the press coverage, there was an outpouring of support from the local community. A couple started a Gofundme page for the staff because it was close to Christmas but then we started to get donations in the form of books. We were overwhelmed with people’s generosity.”
Buckley Football Club collected two shipping containers full of book donations, and Emma and Katrina started to store the donations in their homes and in the garages of friends. Then Caffi Isa, a community and arts centre, stepped in to help.
Emma explained: “The community support got us back on our feet. It’s still early days, but it’s been overwhelming. People’s generosity is insane. Caffi Isa is a community investment company. It’s in a building that used to be the county council’s library. It was revamped into a café, and has classes and a hall for hire. It’s a hive of activity.
"We were honoured to be asked to be a part of that community. They volunteered to help within 24 hours of the fire. A bookshop was not part of the original plan. This all happened very quickly. Our plan was to sell online but this place fell into our laps after a couple of weeks."
Both Emma and Katrina have experience in used and rare books from their Berwyn days, while Adam is working in the used book business for the first time. After initially storing the donations in their homes, they have now stocked their shop in Caffi Isa and are steadily increasing their online inventory.
“Myself and Katrina are still trying to get over the fire,” said Emma. “It was such a quirky building. It feels like we lost a person. But we are lucky to be in this position, and now we take each day as it comes. We are blessed.”