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Published June 21st 2017
Books, beverages and a bevy of wonderful staff
I could easily, easily spend an entire weekend in the book Utopia that is Topping and Company.Nestled into the Paragon, one of the busiest and most vibrant streets of Bath, it is a beautiful bookshop adorned floor to ceiling with a tremendous range of books. Recently refurbished, the shop now sports well over 500,000 titles, which are ALL beautiful editions. Lining the shelves and proudly arrayed on vintage wooden tables, it is 'a literary haven for bibliophiles'. I go to Topping all of the time, and it genuinely feels like a haven when I visit. Or being on holiday, enjoying somewhere exotic.
Getting there? Topping is at a junction of the principal shopping streets in Bath, and there is a myriad of eating, drinking and accommodation options around it. There is no parking available, but with four large Park and Ride carparks within the city there is no real need to drive in. Alternatively, the shop is a leisurely ten minute walk from both rail and bus stations. With a custom-built children's area, Topping encourages and nurtures younger readers, and even has tables and chairs of a miniature nature. There is something for any and every age and taste. It is a champion of lifelong reading.
The wonderful browsing experience is greatly enhanced by the fabulous place itself. Adorned with bright pendant lamps and wheeled ladders, stepping in to the main room is like being transported in to another place. There is something ship-like about the ambience, as there are cosy nooks and snugs along the walls that are like cabins. Readers are openly and warmly encouraged by the staff to browse, and take a seat at on of the tables. Within minutes of my last Topping experience, I was offered a fresh coffee as I perused (on the house), which I readily accepted. With gentle jazz music flowing from the ceiling, coffee in hand, I felt truly content. It was wonderful.
The warmth and hospitality of the staff is mirrored by their expertise as readers and sellers of books. After years of searching for an obscure Czech author's works, today I was immediately led to three of his titles, and given three further recommendations of other authors that I might enjoy. Topping even offer a year-round literary festival, and attract well-known and contemporary authors to the shop for book signing and evening talks. The event's programme is proudly displayed inside and outside the premises, and offers everything from cookery writing to cutting-edge journalism. The range of visitors is almost as varied as the genres on offer.
I spoke to the wise and friendly Kathleen Smith, who is one of the creators of Topping. She told me that she is proud to hold books at the heart of what Topping do, and remain unburdened by other accouterments such as calendars and stationary. There are some wonderful card art prints and notebooks, but typically of Topping, they are beautiful and tailor-made for the literary minded. Kathleen, and indeed all of the four staff that I spoke to on my last visit, are clearly in love with reading, and their passion is infectious. I always come out of Topping with a smile on my face (and of course, a book in my hand). It is certainly within my top five weekend destinations, and possibly in pole position.