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What a year 2021 was…

I didn’t make the deadline for the British Book Awards this year – plus, moving out of the building means that we don’t currently have a physical bookshop. The last few weeks have been so chaotic, that my application remained in the draft box. I have rescued it, and thought that it would be a fitting end to post it here – to show exactly what a bookshop can do for the local community. Thank you in advance for reading xx

My love of books started as a young child, and when I became a school librarian, after being a public librarian, I really thought I had found my dream job, but cuts in funding, and closure of many libraries forced me to rethink my career… and in a twist of fate it ultimately lead me to fulfill my lifelong dream of running my own bookshop.
Becoming unemployed due to redundancy, I undertook many courses, and began the journey to start my own business. I took a rundown, empty Grade 2 listed building and over 2 months, renovated it myself, using as much recycled and reclaimed items as I could. I designed the layout to be completely accessible, which included an accessible toilet and ample space to move around the shop. It is also important to me that the shop is welcoming to everyone, and the products I sell are inclusive and diverse.

Since opening the bookshop I have been the recipient of a Harper Collins Literacy Grant and a Theo Paphitis Small Business Sunday winner. In 2020 I was a finalist for the Great British High street Award. Most recently, I was the Sedgemoor Excellence New business of the year award, and in 2021, I was a finalist for the Nibbies Bookshop award.

For the whole of 2021, I was a sole bookseller. Since we started off the year in lockdown, and everyone was nervous when we opened, (while awaiting their jabs) sadly my Saturday worker and my volunteers all sadly let me know that they would not be returning. So… being that we were in lockdown, I did what everyone else was doing and joined TikTok ! It was a very quick learning curve into modern technology but I found it fun, and I discovered BookTok which showed me a whole world of fast selling, popular (some back catalogue) novels. These titles included Coleen Hoover ( who I had never stocked before) Cain’s Jawbone, which I think is on it’s 4th or 5th print run now and many others. I have sold over 20 copies of the latter title – not bad considering I had never even heard of it before! Since during those early months of the year real life visits and events were out I began offering free online events via zoom. These included a Harry Potter quiz, a World Book Day quiz for local primary schools, and a couple of free author events. They were not for profit, so the I saw no sales from them, but I like to think they kept morale up, promoted reading for pleasure and also helped boost the Bookshop publicly. I began a crowdfund to be able to purchase a Marcus Rashford book for every primary and secondary school in Somerset – and I was successful thanks to the generosity of so many.
I once again delivered locally for free, with no minimum spend. This time, I had to deliver alone. Every child received a small goody bag of book activities, sweets and a WBD day book. Again, as in the previous year I dressed up almost every day as various book characters to make them smile. As in 2020, I came up with various promotional offers such as 2 paperback for £10, a Paperback and an Easter egg for £10 (very popular this one!!!) and Blind date books. This time around I had the website already up and running and by the end of 2021, I had reached just over 400 online orders.

I have continued the ‘Fill a Bookshelf’ scheme and it has gone from strength to strength – in the last 12 months we have reached 9 schools with a box each of fabulous, diverse, inclusive New books. I have been working with local schools as much as possible, and every week I have posted a storytime session on one of our channels, which you can view some of them on the Snug Bookshop YouTube Channel.
Overall takings have been down to 15% of what they were before the pandemic but considering the Café normally accounts for 50% of the total takings, this in actual fact means that books sales have been up on the year before. We have sold over 30% more books in 2021 compared to the previous year – helped in a huge part to some big school orders, but also website orders have grown considerably. Considering we didn’t have an ecommerce website before May 2020, this is an enormous achievement for any small business.

Quite by chance, I raised an issue about the Dave Grohl book, The Storyteller being sold early in Asda. (it was embargoed, so we couldn’t sell it) The Foo Fighters HQ sent across a signed Drum head for me to give away as a prize. This resulted in the sale of almost 100 copies of The Storyteller!

I have taken to social media more and more, posting every day, and even during the Lockdown have updated the windows every 2 weeks, posting photographs on social media. My favourite window of 2021 is Julia and the Shark.
As everything went virtual, I realised quite by chance that the book shop was in fact now more accessible. I hadn’t known before of the constraints that many faced – I had been so focused on creating a cosy space, a ‘literary experience’ in the bookshop that it hadn’t occurred to me that many customers were unable to visit in person. I also noticed when updating the website that I did not advertise that we are completely accessible in the shop (all on one floor) and the café had an accessible toilet – information that would prove very useful to customers before they visit. I took an online social media class in the summer, which also taught me about how to make sure my posts more accessible – which very simply means that if you include a photograph, make sure you say what it is, so that it will be read out if a partial sighted or blind customer clicks on it. Something I hadn’t known about before.

In 2019, I signed up for the Totally Locally ‘Fiver fest’ pack and had been running it with increasing success each time, as more Independent local businesses came on board. When Lockdown hit again at the beginning of 2021, I went into overdrive with promoting other businesses. I run the Totally Locally Bridgwater Instagram, FB and Twitter page for the Town. It has brought all of the businesses in the town together over the last 2 years. We share each other’s posts, follow each other, and most importantly, we all now know each other’s first names. It is difficult because we haven’t met since last summer, but we are in contact often online. We held virtual events, such as find the Bridgwater Naughty Elf on Instagram, and real events such as a loyalty card for the Christmas Window Trail and a raffle.
Business in the bookselling world is very different now… I sell books on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, the website, and I’m not going to lie – it is HARD work, but I really wouldn’t want to be in any other job.
When I talk about the bookshop, I sometimes say ‘I’ but often I’ll say ‘we’. If I’m completely honest, it is just me that runs The Snug Bookshop. I serve the customers in the café, I organise all of the events, I answer the phone, I post the orders…. But this bookshop is very much a community lead bookshop. I have fabulous friends who help, so really I can’t take all of the credit. I help the community, and the community helps me.

It is common knowledge on social media that I have had many struggles over the last year with my building. In the last 3 months , the entire roof blew off and since the landlord did not fix it, the ceiling in the shop collapsed, causing catastrophic damage, and much loss of stock. I try to remain upbeat, and keep a keep a positive spin on things – but this has been extremely hard, and undoubtedly affected sales. I’m not sure what the future holds for The Snug Bookshop, but I sure will have a tight grip on still being a bookseller, even if it is just virtually.

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