Temple Bar Bookshop: a slice of literary heaven

After years of travelling the country searching for collections of second-hand books, a local book-loving couple has opened the cosiest, cutest bookshop in a corner of Temple Bar. Trinity News sat down with them to find out how they made their lifelong dream a reality

When bookseller Tim Collie was ten years old, he made his first major book purchase. At the annual TCD Secondhand Book Sale, he bought ten boxes of books from the clearance section, “much to [his] parent’s delight.”

He added in conversation with TN that as a child, he was “drawn to anything old and interesting-looking.”

Thirty years later, he owns Temple Bar Bookshop, a warmly lit bookstore tucked away on Cow’s Lane, with his wife Tanya Collie. The pair has been in the book buying and selling business for eleven years. 

The Collies have a “love and passion for books” something that was part of what brought them together. Tanya fondly recalled their bookstore dates of the early stages of their relationship. Now, they’ve been married for 14 years, and run the bookshop together, just the two of them. 

On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, they sell a wide variety of books in their brick-and-mortar location. Over time, they have acquired 30,000 books from houses all over Ireland – 4,000 of which are kept on-site. According to Tim, this model yields a balanced selection of “quirky collections.”  

“We’re possibly the broadest bookshop [in Dublin] in the sense that we stock a wide range,” Tanya added. “You can get your fiction for three euros, and you can also get something pretty beautiful as well.”

Tim estimates that over the years, they have acquired the entire collections of between 300 and 400 individuals. During his travels around the country searching for books, Tim has encountered plenty of “odd, eccentric people who have passions in some niche subject matter.” For example, he often acquires specialised libraries from professionals such as architects, artists or historians.

“Tanya particularly recalled her excitement when, on another occasion, they came into possession of a collection that had been owned by poet Thomas Kinsella”

Sometimes, they stumble upon rare finds. For instance, years ago at a country house auction in Tipperary, Tim rummaged through the boxes of unsold, discarded books. He found a letter signed by William Wordsworth tucked inside a tattered collection headed for the bin. Tanya particularly recalled her excitement when, on another occasion, they came into possession of a collection that had been owned by poet Thomas Kinsella. The selection included his own work and what he read. 

In addition to offering rare and antique books, the shop makes an effort to provide something for everybody. “You will find something in the shop for a couple of euros,” Tanya said, “and if it’s been there for a while, we’re happy for it to move on to find a nice home.” She added that there is an intuition involved in deciding which books to show on location: “We want to keep the stock moving,” she said.

Morraugh Lacy, former owner of secondhand bookstore Taney Books in Dundrum, recalled how the Collies used to come to his bookstore before they started their own. Now, Lacy occasionally drops by Temple Bar Bookshop: “They might have something that I think I can sell for a higher price,” he added with a laugh, “because the prices here are so reasonable.” 

The Collies did not always know they were going to be bookshop owners. Tim has a background in geography and town planning, and Tanya worked as a youth librarian. After living in England for six years, they returned to Dublin in 2013. According to Tanya, the move motivated them to “go against the grain” and try a new career. “It was not a linear or natural thing,” she added with a laugh.

Tim described how they “transitioned into business ownership gradually.” For the first six months, they operated their enterprise of collecting, sorting and selling books – then called Broadford Books – from a warehouse in Dublin’s East Wall. At that point, according to Tim, they were primarily selling by appointment or through book fairs. 

The couple then secured their first brick-and-mortar location in Blackrock and sold their books on the weekends. According to Tanya, that location was about one-third of the size of their current one, and they were able to show 2,000 books. Tim added that because they were located in Blackrock, their clientele was 70 to 80 percent made up of regulars.

The Collies moved to their current location last March. Tim said that it has its own character, explaining that “every street is different.” He added that there are more tourists in the area, and as a result, they are able to sell a “much greater variety” of books. The other businesses in the area also boost traffic, and they find that a lot of people pop in to browse. 

On the days when the shop is not open, the couple work from home. According to Tanya, those days usually involve “donkey work” including accounting, unboxing, cataloguing, sorting and posting. She said it’s nice to have flexibility when juggling the schedules of their four children. The “world revolves around them,” she said with a laugh, adding that her kids have “a feel for books” and have been “immersed in it.” 

“They have probably shipped around 15,000 books total, including to international customers”

In addition to their physical premise, the couple maintains an online presence. Tim said that they sell five or six books online everyday, and Tanya estimated that they typically post 70 to 100 books each week. Tim also approximated that at this point in their bookselling careers, they have probably shipped around 15,000 books total, including to international customers. 

The online dimension of their business is growing, and it supports the maintenance of the brick-and-mortar location. “We could not have one without the other,” Tim emphasised.

Aside from providing Dublin with a special place to find some great books, Temple Bar Bookshop has become a source of community for many: “People come into the shop just wanting to chat with someone,” Tim said. “We can be a bit of a talking shop sometimes.” Though it is new to Dublin City, this small corner of Temple Bar paradise will undoubtedly continue to attract book lovers and chatterboxes alike for years to come.