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So You Need To Get Into A.Z. Fell & Co.; Now What? (A Guide For Unfortunate Bookworms)

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London’s antique enthusiasts and rare lit nerds alike know that if you’re looking for a specific vintage or antique book, you have a good chance of ending up in A.Z. Fell & Co. as a last resort. And if you’ve ever been in (or are currently in) this predicament, you know how much of an absolute nightmare it is trying to even get in the door. We are here for you. We understand your pain. Between the two of us, we have entered the place a total of 16 times, and out of those 16 visits, 7 of them—that’s almost half—have ended with a book actually being purchased. This success rate is the fruit of a months-long collaborative effort to create the perfect formula for gaming the A.Z. Fell system. 

If you’re new to London’s rare book scene, you might not be familiar with A.Z. Fell’s yet. You’re going to wind up there eventually. The owner has some kind of miraculous instinct for sniffing out the rarest books—the place is full of the kind of stuff you won’t find anywhere else in Britain—but what he doesn’t have is the desire to sell any of them. The moment you, as a customer, enter his shop, A.Z. Fell himself greets you with a smile that barely masks his utter hatred for the idea that money can be exchanged for goods and services. His only goal is to make you leave empty-handed. If antique bookstores are a game, Fell’s is the final boss, and you, the player, won’t get it on the first try.  

We’re exaggerating, of course. The man is polite enough. He really, really doesn’t want you to buy anything though. Can you blame him? If we had that many books in one spot we wouldn’t be selling them either. Why he decided to open up a shop is beyond us. It might be a tax thing. It’s probably a tax thing. Or the mafia. 

Anyways—here, in two parts, is our best and most thorough advice on how to get into A.Z. Fell & Co., and how to leave with what you’re looking for.

Part I: Getting In The Door

Walking up to the front door of Fell’s for the first time, you’ll see two things. The first is a closed sign. You’ll never, ever catch the place open on your first try, unless you’re some kind of otherworldly being with the ability to change the nature of reality. The second thing you’ll see is a long and complicated sign on cream-white paper that provides a vague and confusing description of A.Z. Fell & Co.’s opening hours. This is what it says:

“I open the shop on most weekdays at about 9:30 or perhaps 10 AM. While occasionally I open the shop as early as 8, I have been known not to open until 1, except on Tuesday. I tend to close about 3:30 PM, or earlier if something needs tending to. However, I might occasionally keep the shop open until 8 or 9 at night, you never know when you may need some light reading. On days that I am not in, the shop will remain closed. On weekends, I will open the shop during normal hours unless I am elsewhere. Bank holidays will be treated in the usual fashion, with early closing on Wednesdays, or sometimes Fridays. (For Sundays see Tuesdays).

A.Z. Fell, Bookseller”

This reads like a math problem. After a few reads one might assume that the normal opening hours are 10-3:30, sometimes a bit earlier, sometimes a bit later. Seems simple enough, right? Wrong. Dozens of visits, both failed and successful, to Fell’s have given us a better picture of the way this incoherent jumble of text translates to real life. Here are the key points:

  • “On days that I am not in, the shop will remain closed.” The first thing to remember about Fell’s opening hours is that they follow absolutely no consistent structure. If Mr. Fell decides he doesn’t want to come in, the shop stays closed, and this, and not showing up at the wrong time on the right day, is the number one reason you’re going to find the shop closed.
  • “On weekends, I will open the shop during normal hours unless I am elsewhere.” He’s always elsewhere. Don’t bother.
  • Holidays: You wouldn’t expect it to be open. Don’t bother.
  • Early closing: Fell’s tends to close at 12 on Wednesday and Friday. He leaves to eat and never comes back. Our guess is this coincides with a lunch special somewhere.
  • Late closing: Don’t expect it. Neither of us have ever seen it happen. Fell lives in the flat above the shop; sometimes he probably forgets that the bottom half is a commercial establishment, and he sits around drinking or reading or something downstairs and forgets to lock the door. At any rate, he doesn’t do it on purpose, and if you find the shop unlocked in the evening for the love of God don’t go in. 
  • Early opening: More common than late closing, but don’t expect it. 
  • Late opening: Happens about once a week. Typically this is a Monday.

With all this in mind, we put together a handy table illustrating the best times to try.

A.Z. Fell Normal Opening Hours

 

MON

TUE

WED

THURS

FRI

SAT

SUN

Outlook

AVG GOOD AVG GOOD AVG BAD BAD

Typical Hours

1:00-3:30

9:30-3:30

9:30-12:00

9:30-3:30

9:30-12:00

Closed

Closed

Conditions

Late opening.

Maximum time window.

Early closing.

Maximum time window.

Early closing.

He's out.

He's out.

 

Because of the general unreliability of Fell’s listed hours, this chart only works about 50% of the time. It isn’t an exact science. Several other factors play into your chances of success. Here’s a few additional tips based on personal experience:

  • If it’s raining, storming, or incredibly cold, Fell’s is closed. If it’s an exceptionally nice day out, Fell’s is also closed. 
  • Never call. Fell’s has a phone, but if you call ahead about hours the shop is always closed. If you call about a specific book, Fell’s never has it. 
  • Fell’s follows a restricted schedule during tourist season. In the spring and summer, Fell’s may be closed more often. A good rule of thumb is if there are too many people on the street, Fell’s is closed. 
  • Fell’s is likely to be closed on days of large parades and festivals. 
  • Don’t walk directly up to the door. Try to slide in from the side, to minimize the chances of him seeing you coming up. There is a chance that he may switch the sign just as you try to open the door. This has happened to us, and it is infuriating.

Part II: Getting The Goods

Assuming that you’re able to make it into the shop in the first place, your next challenge is making it out with a book. A.Z. Fell Does Not Like to let any of his books go. If Fell’s is the only place you can find what you’re looking for, expect difficulty in getting it back home. 

Firstly, the place is not as nice as it looks from outside. In fact it’s kind of unpleasant, in the way that almost suggests that it’s haunted. It smells like ash, wet wood and ghost breath, and inspires a feeling of general unease. Some people have suggested that Fell’s is a front for Satanic rituals. While that’s obviously not true it would make a weird kind of sense. Most of the “general unease” is probably attributable to the way that Fell himself glowers at you out of the corner of your eye as you browse. 

While you’re in, A.Z. Fell will watch you like a hawk. He’s an aggressively blond middle-aged man who always wears beige suits. Very hard to miss. You might cross paths with some other book nerds, or with incredibly lucky casual shoppers. You’re also likely to see a tall, skinny redhead who looks and acts like the aging frontman of a Rolling Stones tribute band. This man is apparently called Crowley, possibly the mysterious “& Co.” referenced by the signage. We assume that he’s Fell’s partner despite the fact that he doesn’t look like he reads. 

Once you’ve stated your intention to buy, Fell will do everything in his power short of outright shooing you from the shop to prevent you from making a purchase. He’ll give you obnoxiously high price quotes. He’ll tell you the edition you’re holding is damaged, and that you ought to go find a newer one. He’ll suggest that the book is so fragile you may damage it on accident. Facing down this gauntlet of intimidation, you may feel hopeless. But we’ve put together a list of Dos and Donts to help you out:

  • DO come prepared. If you can, find online price quotes for the book, or for a similar title. If the book is older, bring gloves and a secure case to transport it. Take away Fell’s excuses for denying you your purchase.
  • DO talk literature. Fell is the ultimate book nerd: he hoards his collection like a dragon. Striking up a literary conversation with him will bring down his guard, and might sway him towards your side. He has a lot of esoteric book knowledge. You’ll probably learn a thing or two.
  • DO talk to Crowley. Fell seems to appreciate when people make an effort to be friendly with his partner. Crowley doesn’t know a single thing about antique literature, nor does he seem to care, but he does have a dubiously tasteful face tattoo that you can compliment. 
  • DO make a preliminary visit. As much work as it might seem, coming in beforehand and reassuring Fell that you’re only there to browse does wonders at wearing down his defenses. 
  • DON’T come back twice in a row after the same book. It’ll be gone from the shelves on your return visit. If you have to return, sprinkle a browsing visit or two in between tries, or wait a month or so until you try again. 
  • DON’T get heated. ESPECIALLY DO NOT insult Fell in any way. We have seen this happen and it isn’t pretty. In short: Crowley is protective. 
  • DON’T ask Fell personal questions. Conversing with him is all well and good, but he is very hesitant to share any details whatsoever about his life. We have asked him his first name on separate occasions and received conflicting answers. 
  • DON’T give up too easily. The back-and forth between you and Fell might be tiresome, but it’s the only way you’re going to get certain exceptionally rare books. You’ll get there eventually.

 

All of what you just read is based entirely on our own personal experience. You might find an approach that works even better. If you do, please let us know. Regardless, we wish you the best. Godspeed.

—pageknight & inky, proud survivors of A.Z. Fell & Co.