Grass Roots Books

Grass Roots Books was Manchester's radical bookshop from 1971-1990, becoming the largest outside London. For most of that time it was run as a workers co-operative. A small group of former workers have been collecting memories and some archive material about Grass Roots.

By Karen Shannon · October 13, 2022

The archive will soon be on display at Archives+ at Manchester Central Library. On Monday 7th November there will be a drop-in event from 5.30-7.30pm and will include a chance to see a range of material including radical books from the period. It is an open event, so please encourage others to come along. Some of the material will also be on display throughout November at Archives+.

Memories and items have been contributed by around 15 former staff. They are also seeking recollections from customers, librarians and casual staff, asking “What did you buy there?” “Did you use the noticeboards?” “What did it mean to you?”

One of the contributions already received is from Lizzie Gent, who shares her memories of Grass Roots Books and the impact it had on her…

When I first came to Manchester in 1980 I quickly realised that here was a vibrant radical city where the opportunities to find out more about alternative life choices were infinitely more varied than in rural Dorset.

Grass Roots Bookshop, located on the corner of Newton Street and Piccadilly, was very much a part of this, and played an important role in my coming-out process during the following 12 months. Once I discovered the Gay Centre at 61A Bloom Street and Lesbian Link phoneline, a whole new world opened up; one of the first things I learned at the Tuesday night support group that Lesbian Link ran was the existence of the radical bookshop where a cornucopia of books, newsletters, information and support was available.

Over the next decade I got to know members of the collective who have remained lifelong friends, and enjoyed many a brilliant author event and book launch. Grass Roots was a key outlet for selling the Manchester Women’s Liberation Newsletter that I would later become involved with producing, and through the bookshop I got a job working for Scottish & Northern Book Distribution Co-op one summer.

This was a long-established workers’ co-operative based in a Victorian warehouse on Granby Row (now student flats for UMIST) which supplied radical titles to independent bookshops in Scotland and the north of England – of which there were a sizeable number.

A bookshelf full of black and white striped Women’s Press and green Virago books, LPs, numerous badges and some very funny postcards, all attest to the deep affection and love I still hold for Grass Roots.