More than just words on a page – Imagined Things on bookstores and businesses in Harrogate
There is something charming about a bookstore; the aroma of untouched pages, the promise of a thousand worlds old and new just waiting to be explored.
The British bookshop hasn’t escaped the rapid, and much publicised, decline of the UK high street. Across the nation, many booksellers have been forced to lock their shop doors for the final time.
It isn’t all doom and gloom for the British bookshop, however, as Citi-Wise found out when we met with Georgia, owner of the Harrogate-based Imagined Things.
A relatively new addition to the Harrogate high street, the wonderfully comforting ambience of Imagined Things is the result of Georgia’s lifelong love of the written word. Sitting down with Georgia, we uncovered the ups and downs of a bookshop owner, and just how to go about running an independent business in a climate where retail is struggling.
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Once upon a time…
Georgia’s career hasn’t always centred around books. Prior to opening Imagined Things, she spent six years as a radiographer with the NHS. However, books have never been far from her thoughts; “I’d never thought opening a bookshop was possible, but it was something I was always thinking about. One day, I started looking into things and it was only about eight months on from the conversation with my partner that we got the keys for Imagined Things”.
Imagined Things is a pretty little store in Harrogate’s Westminster Arcade, a Victorian-era style shopping avenue filled with beautiful boutiques and interesting independents. The idea for the name was long in gestation “It took me ages to think of the name, but it came from wanting to encapsulate what books are, they’re more than just words on a page. I was reading a speech by (author) Neil Gaiman and he was talking about the importance of ‘imagined things’ – and it just clicked, that’s where it comes from.”
Christmas is just around the corner and the decorations are already up in Imagined Things. There are shelves upon shelves of books bound to end up in someone’s stocking.
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“Bookshops are very important, but we’re endangered” notes Georgia. “I think it was 1995, there were 1,894 bookshops across the UK. Now there are under 900.” That startling figure is a loss of almost half. Georgia has her own thoughts on the reasons for the cull “There are a lot of challenges for the sector. It was ‘95 (a bad year for bookstores clearly) when the Netbook Agreement, which had meant that all books needed to be sold at the recommended retail price, was abolished. After that, the rise of Amazon and eBooks, discounting, they’ve all made life difficult for the independent bookseller”.
Despite the endangered status of the British high street bookshop, there are plenty of positives to be found in running one, says Georgia.
“Being surrounded by books all day is great! Just getting to know local people, local families too; children coming in and seeing them progress and enjoy books. Having people come back in and say that they want the next book in the series or they really enjoyed a recommendation I made – it’s all great! Just making those connections and being able to share my love of books, sharing my passion is just brilliant.”
Harrogate is a tourist hotspot. Tens of thousands flock to the Yorkshire town every year to wander the picturesque streets, escape into the Dales, or sample the iconic teas of Betty’s Tea Rooms. Yet, despite all this footfall, the high street has suffered much the same fate as many others across the country. Life for an independent proprietor in such a climate must be a tricky one, surely?
“It is tricky. There’s a lot of local support in the town for independents, a lot of local people are keen to keep independents. They want the town to be diverse and have a range of shops and other businesses: which is great. We get a lot of tourists and tourists appreciate independent shops, they appreciate the difference.
That’s why you go somewhere new, right? Because it’s different from somewhere else”.
Georgia thinks survival as an independent business in Harrogate, or anywhere for that matter, lies in collaboration with other private businesses in the local area. She has a few of her own ideas on how the town could better market its independent offering to residents and visitors alike:
“I do think more can be done and I’m excited to see what changes happen in the future. Perhaps better signposting? I try and signpost visitors to other businesses but you can’t, in a one-minute conversation, tell everyone everything. Maybe if we had a map? Something that said ‘Here they all are, they’re brilliant’ – then it’s easier to find out who’s there and what they’ve got. The more independents work together to promote themselves, the better I think”.
Georgia knows a thing or two about promotion. It was last year that a despondent Tweet regarding the trials and tribulations in the life of a bookshop went viral. “We had a tweet that went viral, and it was seen by 1.6m people. That helped immensely. We got a lot of media coverage, national media coverage, off the back of it. I did a piece on Radio 4, we did local radio, local papers: everyone was great in helping to spread the word about the shop.”
There are big plans in the pipeline for Imagined Things. “We’re a relatively new business and we’ve got to keep going and keep building. We’ve just launched a website, and we’re going to start installing small Dragon Libraries into schools, as part of the Macmillan Indie Innovation Award.
“We’re going to be starting our Little Dragons Reading Adventure loyalty scheme, which will make coming into the shop and reading hopefully more exciting for children, whilst also raising money for local schools to put towards books. It’s all very exciting”.
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