This is Treasure Trove, dedicated to providing children’s books in English. Entering the shop is no disappointment: There are thousands of books for children of all ages. Not to mention comfy chairs to sink into and a doll’s house and cuddly toys to entertain the youngest clients.
Seated at a table, children are busy with activities, inspired by their literary heroes. On Wednesdays and Sundays they are invited to story time while their grown-ups browse the store, sipping coffee or tea.
It all began on the front porch of a house in the countryside, just outside Tervuren, Flemish Brabant. Christine Moore, a British mother of three children, who were all very fond of reading, started Treasure Trove about 30 years ago. As the collection on her porch spilled over into her basement, she decided to move to new premises in Moorsel, a district of Tervuren.
Once her children grew up, Moore sold Treasure Trove to Dutch businessman Friso Coppes, who had specialised in supermarkets but had long desired to own a bookshop. He was looking for a shop to fill premises he already owned on Tervuren’s main street, which became the new home of Treasure Trove.
Conveniently located just outside of Brussels, this self-styled toy-box of a shop now welcomes hordes of English speakers from the capital and across Flanders. Its ethos remains: This is a bookshop for children. “We want them to feel that it is their shop,” explains Jane Still, one of the Treasure Trove team.
On any day, Still and her co-workers can be heard chatting to the children on a first-name basis and suggesting titles in which they might be interested. Name any genre, and they are sure to come up with something new to satisfy bookish desires.
There are many reasons why a shop like Treasure Trove should not survive – competition from online retailers with lower overheads, the rise of electronic publishing and the abundance of shops in the area selling English books, such as Stonemanor and Waterstones.
Treasure Trove has a thriving business supplying books to local schools and holding book fairs for children. But Still and her colleague, Jennifer Hayers, explain that this is nevertheless not a money spinner, since the margins on text books are minimal; it really is the shop.
Part of the explanation for its longevity is its buying strategy. “We don’t really stock the bestsellers; we choose the ones that are more quality literature,” explains Still. “We don’t sell the books you could pick up in the supermarket or airport.”
That’s not to say there are no bestsellers. Certainly, you may find in the small but well-stocked adult section the books from the blockbuster Fifty Shades series, but, Still warns with a glint, you have to be quick as they sell out fast.
Treasure Trove is a place where you can find all the old children’s classics in abundance as well as the best of contemporary fiction, ample in its provision of a wide range of literature to suit all tastes. Perhaps steering away from bestsellers as such has also attracted the committed readers. The ubiquitous Harry Potter novels may have brought a wave of new readers, but, Still says, “there are just as many serious readers as there always were, and they read masses of books.”
The window displays – tailored to events throughout the year and featuring so far in 2012 a gardening theme for spring, sports books and stories about London to tie in with the Olympics and currently a selection of back-to-school books – are where it all starts for Treasure Trove fans.
“The window is essential,” says Hayers. “That’s what draws people in.”
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Don’t Put Your Finger in the Jelly Nelly by Nick Sharratt
The Princess and The Pea by Lauren Child
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
Ballet Shoes by Nina Bawden