In a tiny town on the southwest coast of Scotland, there’s one bookstore for every hundred people who live there. And in the already unusually bookish town, one bookshop stands out: The people who work there are also paying for the pleasure.
Wigtown, a two hour drive south of Glasgow, is the country’s national book town, with around 10 bookstores for its 1,000 residents. There, a tourism experiment has been underway for two years, an Airbnb called the Open Book, where visitors pay to stay the week and run the bookstore underneath.
The rental is £36 (about $48) a night, with a minimum stay of six nights. It sounds like an odd proposition, to ask people to pay for their own labor, but Open Book isn’t struggling to find customers. On the store’s blog, more than one renter says they waited two years for their spot, and reviews on Airbnb are full of glowing superlatives. The next available booking is October 2020.
“The Open Book isn’t offering a holiday or a job exactly,” writes Harvey Lindsay, who helps with rental bookings, by email. “It’s giving an experience that is very difficult to have, a taster of a life lots of people wish they could live.”
The Open Book doesn’t ask too much of its guests: Guests are expected to make sure the shelves are stocked and to price donated books. The rules don’t stipulate that they have to be open for any number of hours.
Renters who write on the store’s blog portray the experience as a pretty slow, pleasantly boring holiday. In their entries, guests fixate on rain and slow foot traffic, and speculate about how to move more books. (Play James Taylor, suggests one.)
“As an Open Book bookseller, you’re as much of a tourist attraction as the shop, for the locals at least,” Dan Dalton wrote last year after a stay at the store. “After lunch, an older man opens the door, takes one look at me, and says ‘you’re not very exotic,’ before closing it again.”