As so many of our bookshops are now part of large chains, and the bulk of book buying for those chains is carried out by a central buying office, the stock you see on the shelves has become homogenous and neutral. Stock in an Edinburgh branch of Waterstones is almost identical to stock in the Exeter branch.
Most branches will have a small section for local interest books (by local authors, perhaps, or about local history) but the majority of the titles that they carry will be found in all of their branches.
While I don’t hold any grudges against Waterstones or any other chain (I’ll cheerfully admit that I’ve spent weeks of my life lurking in their stacks), I do worry about the impact that they’ve had on bookselling’s independent sector. While relatively few independent bookstores now remain, thirty years ago they were a feature of almost every high street: each one had its own personality, which was reflected in its stock, and the people who shopped in them. I fondly remember a bookshop in Ealing Broadway (opposite the train station: can anyone else remember it?) where I used to buy short story anthologies, poetry, and experimental fiction, much of which I still own; and another bookshop on Kentish Town high road where twenty years ago I bought all sorts of books from new writers, published by emerging presses. I doubt that any branch of Waterstones would even consider stocking half of those the titles: and yet they’re (almost!) all brilliantly written, and many contain work from newcomers who are now household names.
So now, when ever I go anywhere, I make an effort to find any independent bookshops that I can. Some are a little less organised than Waterstones or Borders; and they don’t usually have much in the way of three-for-twos; but they more than make up for those failings by having staff who can find you the perfect title out of their brilliant range of fascinating books.