Long shelf life for bookseller still turning over pages at 87

WRITE STUFF: Barbara Steel who has been manning the counter at The Grove Bookshop for 25 years where she has met writers such as Alan Bennett and American Bill Bryson.  PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
WRITE STUFF: Barbara Steel who has been manning the counter at The Grove Bookshop for 25 years where she has met writers such as Alan Bennett and American Bill Bryson. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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A West Yorkshire bookseller who counts Alan Bennett among her regular customers may be Britain’s oldest, but has no intention of turning over a new leaf.

Barbara Steel, at 87, has been manning the counter at The Grove Bookshop in Ilkley for 25 years and is also to be found dispensing signed copies at the town’s literature festival each October. She was already near retirement age when she was taken on, following a career on the appointments board at Cambridge University.

“I didn’t want to retire,” she said. “I thought that no-one would want to employ a woman in her 60s, but I was wrong.

“My friend owned the shop at that time and I came in to see her one day when it was really busy. I commented on it and she said, ‘Get your coat off and help’, and I’ve stayed ever since.”

The shop’s current manager, Mike Sansbury, said: “Barbara has got more energy than the rest us put together.”

Independent bookshops are struggling in the Amazon age, but The Grove has thrived, buoyed by occasional signings by Bennett and heavy demand from festival-goers. A particular friend was the American author Bill Bryson, who visited the literature festival.

“He was a wonderful man, really caring about this country,” she said.