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The Rabbit Hole Bookshop in Brigg, North Lincolnshire is my kind of bookshop - I love that they have so many forward-facing books on those beautiful shelves! I just know from the photos that I could quite happily browse a while, and plonk myself on the floor and listen to Storytime. Mel and Nick started The Rabbit Hole in 2017 after leaving the teaching profession. They are supporting and a part of their local community, and love recommending books. It seems as though they had some good advice, and were supported by other Bookshops (isn’t sharing book love wonderful?). I wish The Rabbit Hole much success for the future.
When was your bookshop born and how did that come about?
The Rabbit Hole Independent Bookshop was born in January 2017 as an idea and opened in its first premises in August 2017 and later moved to its current premises in January 2018.
The idea came about as we were both full time teachers and finding it increasingly difficult to actually enjoy our teaching under new circumstances imposed by the Academisation of the school. We still continue with our beloved occupation but in a way, we can support children and parents we felt were being let down and this was a major part of the reasoning behind the shop.
Tell us about the journey and the changes you have seen over the years.
We are still very new to the trade and the whole publishing industry and we are still novices. Steep learning curves everyday and new challenges to face. We have learnt a lot in a short time and have always had wonderful support from The BA from the very point we approached them with an email just saying …we have an idea, where do we start?
We found our first premises as a derelict old chip shop and worked hard to renovate it and although it was small, we were thrilled with it. About a month after opening we hit a major problem as we discovered information about the landlord we were unhappy about. We contacted solicitors and they strongly advised us to move. For us, it was like the end of the world.
Luckily, we found another shop through word of mouth and we managed to get a contract to move in on January 1st. Our solicitor advised us that we should not make anyone aware of the move. On New Years Day we moved. Everything. Furniture, signs, books…everything in one day with the help of some local friends. We re- opened on 3rd January! We can actually just about see our old premises but the old landlord has gone and all of his properties are in new hands.
It was the most worrying part of our venture so far. Financially it cost us too and we are now surviving without the safety net we had put by.
It is difficult to comment on other changes in the bookshop world generally but on a more personal and local level, we have become more confident and more well known. Perhaps the biggest change in the running of the shop has been a growth in our use of social media. As teachers in areas outside of mainstream, we had rarely used even Facebook. Now a lot of our communication locally is through Facebook and more nationally through Twitter and Instagram.
Even in our short time of trading we have however seen a growth in the number of people wanting to use Indie shops rather than other retailers whether online or bricks and mortar. This could just be due to our relative newness but we do generally feel there is a growing swell of support for smaller independent shops which have greater creativity in choice and they have that face to face contact and advice available.
Has the rise of digital retailers affected your bookshop, what were your first thoughts about ebooks and do you feel the same now?
Online retailers were and are a worry. Not merely because of their unfair trading and alleged discounts but we feel that the impact they are having on choice and variety is a much greater threat to society. Ask any Indie bookseller how long they take looking through choices and stock? We really feel that many order books on the internet are the top sellers and cheaper than from the shops which mass sell. We have so many comments about the variety we sell and often stock only one or two of titles initially to allow people to see them. This especially applies as regards children’s books. You could argue the point that we determine choice via companies and Reps but we do take advice from reading groups, teachers and customers of all ages. We are always open to the challenge of getting more unusual books in front of people to at least see.
There is a place for online but the scale of some companies and their working practice is quite frightening.
The same really applies to downloads and “kindle” books. They have their place. Some people love them, others use them for travel or holidays. We also find that some people come in after reading the book whilst commuting, for example, and ask for a hardback copy to keep. There is still a great love of the physicality of books.
What is important in a great bookshop, tell us what sets you apart and makes you special.
We think all Indie Bookshops are special and different and that is what makes them great for that space at that moment in time. We see ourselves firmly as a community bookshop and hold storytelling events weekly for children and adults of all ages. We support local discussion groups and work hard to support local schools and youth clubs. We have introduced music and drumming, illustration and art in groups across the age ranges and together. Now some elderly residents in the community run watercolour workshops for parents and children to spend time together. We often ask people…” When was the last time you spent two hours sat together just reading, storytelling or painting?” There is often a period of silence followed by… “I really can’t remember”
We are never one to blow our own trumpets as it were. As long as people are happy and as long as we can survive, we will carry on supporting our community in as many weird and wonderful ways as possible.
The one thing that does make our bookshop great is without doubt our customers and the groups we run and the schools and others we work with. The Rabbit Hole Community. The people who pop in to say hello, have a chat, ask advice. The people who love books and the feel of a bookshop.
Bookshops are a great place to wander, look and relax and wonder. People feel comfortable as there are things to look at and talk about. Conversations spark up. People interact.
Tell us about the books you love to recommend.
We love recommending different books to different people. With newer customers, we will work from what they ask or chat about. With some more regular customers, we will suggest they try a book we have read and enjoyed for whatever reason and explain why we think they will enjoy it. We also like to challenge and especially with children. Often adults take over the decision-making process. We try to chat and talk to them so that the children do make the choice and it will quite often be a book or author they have not come across before. It is then so nice to have any customer return, and many do, to say thank you.
We also love recommending books written locally and we have a very strong local focus for fiction, non-fiction and children’s books. One local author came to us after writing her first book. We asked if she would like to come along one evening and talk about it. She had never done that before. She has been back a few times, just to be around the shop. The second book is on its way and her first book is the second-best seller we have had this year. (The top seller was a massive worldwide publishing hit last year and we had pre-ordered signed copies)
What is your favourite part of your bookshop?
The favourite part of the bookshop would cause a very long discussion between Mel and I.
Mel has a great knowledge and love of children’s literature and books. Her favourite area is without doubt the front of the shop which is our children’s area. We decided to put that area at the front partly due to the building design but also because we had noticed that many bookshops place the children’s area at the back. We wanted to shout out to children. The area has a fort, Lego, a dolls house and train and is easily adapted for Storytimes and events.
We are lucky to have two bay windows in the shop so one window displays adult fact/fiction whilst the other displays children’s books. We also place as many books as possible outfacing so they are easy to see and access.
I love all of the shop for different reasons but I have created a space for what is admittedly my first love, music. The upstairs area is used for preloved handbooks and vinyl. The vinyl and CD room is full of memorabilia from my own collection and has guitars and music books as well. Far too much time can be spent there talking with other vinyl collectors or music fans. The pleasant surprise has been the number of younger people just loving to use the record players and look at the photo’s etc…
The music and vinyl room often serves as a retreat for people who want to just sit and listen or read. One father who brings his daughter to our younger reading group after school sits quietly with his book and reads for an hour or so. He says it is the only chance he gets to concentrate and has firmly built it into his weekly schedule.
To be perfectly honest we have our joint dream work environment. New books for all ages, second-hand books, vinyl and music.
Tell us a secret about books.
I think they are tactile and actually aid empathy in a way that using other ITC based reading facilitators do not. As a teacher, I was always aware of encouraging interactive learning. Books in their own way give you more of a belonging whilst reading from them. You can find it more stimulating and more relaxing at the same time. People like the feel and even the smell of books. They feel they own a book and can physically treasure an item for keeps.
The body reacts in different ways to reading a book. It is often the feeling of being closer to the author in that it is the physical written word, even though I guess more books are actually written on word processors now rather than long had.
Perhaps I am wrong but I think people still like the thought that the author "wrote" their book for them. A different entity and not to be confused with the mass of emails and texts we all get every day.
What else do our members need to know about you?
Your members may well be bored already.
Mel and I have a passion for books and for learning. All through our teaching careers, we championed those who needed that bit of extra support. I worked in “Inclusion” for over twenty years fighting hard on behalf of families to ensure children had fair access to education in mainstream As the systems and regimes changed I moved out of mainstream to work in referral units of various types. Mel also worked in referral units but as the changes in mainstream spread to other providers, we felt the only way to support some of the families and children was to do it in another way. That is a major part of what we do through our shop in many different ways and with some wonderful publishers supporting us in different ways when we beg!
We are both so determined to make our little venture survive. Only time will tell. In this world of uncertainty, change and challenge.
Apart from yourselves, which other bookshop(s) do you love to spend time in?
A bookshop that has a special place in our hearts is The Bookcase in Lowdham.
When we were thinking the idea through we visited many bookshops around different parts of the country. We love so many. All different, all special.
Jane at Lowdham really supported us and gave us fair and hard advice. It convinced us to make the jump. We gave up two full-time jobs. Sold our house downsized and now have The Rabbit Hole. And we do not regret one minute. We hope to survive but at least we had a go thanks to the advice of Jane in Lowdham.
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