For the owner of Jam Bookshop in Hoxton, David Ziggy Greene, running a bookshop was a long-term dream of some sort. But the dream was not about owning a bookshop – it was more about making a statement, having prose and comics in the same vicinity, and promoting illustration.
Greene told Eastlondonlines about how Jam is different from other bookshops, the experience of starting a business as an illustrator, drawing inspiration from things around you. And books, of course.
Before Jam, Greene worked for nine years as an illustrator in Private Eye; some of his latest works are Times Like These, Walkies, and a recent collaboration with author Jeremy Dronfield, a graphic novel called Fritz and Kurt, to which Observer referred to as “astonishing”.
After the coronavirus pandemic hit, Greene had to pause his career in Private Eye, and that gave him time to follow his long-time desire of opening a bookshop. He started crowdfunding for Jam in 2022 and raised over 20,000 pounds in just a few months. Greene’s background allowed him to look at the business of running a bookshop from a different perspective: “As an illustrator, I want to give some tribute to the art of books,” he said.
Judging a book by its cover
Tucked in a corner away from the main road, with beautifully painted front windows and colourful covers on display, Jam urges people to come in and “judge a book by its cover” – quite literally, as the words are etched onto the front door.
Jam’s book selection is self-curated by Greene. He said that he was picking very visual books, and a lot of people who came in admitted that they, in fact, judged a book by its cover.
“I think we’re told we’re not meant to [judge the book by its cover],” said Greene, “but people sort of whisper, like in a confession box, ‘actually, I really do, the cover’s really good.’”
About the transition from being an illustrator to running a bookshop, Greene said: “I worked in magazines and things like that, it was very intense. And after a while, it becomes an automatic job. So it becomes less challenging.”
Greene compared the routine to playing the violin; he said if a violinist played the same song every time and never learned a different song, that means they were just playing that song as a job. The art loses its meaning and just becomes frustrating to its creator.
Greene got out of this creativity slump when he started working in Jam. “The bookshop was a way of trying to have some sort of income, which would cover drawing less so that I could have that kind of chance to explore and be more creative again,” he said.
Greene pondered that people’s interest was mostly drawn towards film and music – and drawing and illustration design often is “at the bottom of the ocean”, not perceived as a respectable art form.
“My drawing work has always tried to be used in places where people don’t normally see illustrations, and in a way, I applied it to a bookshop.
“That’s why a lot of graphic novels or comic books are mixed in with the literature in here, so when you walk into the visuals, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the latest novel or the old graphic novel. It’s the fact that they both capture your eyes and get you interested.”
The love of physical books
Greene’s experience running his bookshop told him that people still want to own physical books despite all the books they could have on tablets or laptops.
“You know when you spend all day looking at screens for work for things, you end up not wanting to read on the screen as well. I find I’m like that, and feedback shows that a lot of people are like that. I do get told a lot that people are now wanting physical books again.
“And then I’ve had customers come in and say that they haven’t bought a book in three years, but having seen the shop, and picking up the book, they bought something. Because there is an urge to go back to a physical book. And it’s sort of one reason why I thought now’s a good time to open a bookshop because I’m getting the urge back into books and I’d sort of got the vibe that other people were as well.”
Running a business in London is extraordinarily expensive. Greene said he had been constantly asking himself: “What am I doing when the country is not in the best state and things are just still getting more and more expensive.”
For Greene, his reward is when there are customers who walk in and have amazing feedback. “I’d hope to open a shop where people discover illustration. For example, when somebody has walked in, and more than once, genuinely, people have walked in and they’ve picked up a novel,” he said.
“And then they come back two or three or four times to buy others because they said they’ve really enjoyed it. And for me, those little things, people’s horizons are expanded simply because the shop is trying something different.” These are the hopes that Greene feels were hit, but he does not allow himself to relax: “Keep at it so it doesn’t stop.”
Visit Jam Bookshop at 61a Hackney Rd, London E2 7NX, open Wed 12-6, Thur 12-7, Sat 11-6, Sun 11-4.