A Grade II-listed, former textile studio is being transformed into a bookshop in Margate, and will open on Sunday (26th May).
Fine Art graduate Francesca Wilkins, who has funded the shop through her savings, revealed that initially she was frustrated by the difficulty of finding a job in the arts. She has funded The Margate Bookshop in Market Place with her own savings after initially running the store as a pop-up shop in the town's Turner Gallery.
“I was halfway through my degree in London, I realised I was not going to secure a career in the creative industry,” she told The Bookseller. “I wasn’t going to make a living creating art, or writing about culture, or writing anything, working in publishing, curating exhibitions, refining my translation work or editing magazines, so on and so forth. I had skills, motivation, experience. I would soon have a degree. Yet no one seemed remotely interested in even offering me an interview. I grew more and more disheartened.”
She began volunteering for and then working at Word on the Water, a bookshop on a barge near King’s Cross. “Slowly I became more and more a member of the team and more recently I had a small section of the boat which I was curating, specifically with self help books and books from small publishers,” the 28-year-old said. “In the meantime I had reached out to the Margate Bookie festival held in Margate, I met with Andreas its founder and we got on really well. We figured we could have a pop-up bookshop as part of the festival, so I set up shop in the Turner Contemporary art gallery on the seafront, it was a few tables in a room but it was immensely successful, I received a lot of positive feedback and confirmed my suspicion that there was a desire for a bookshop in Margate.”
She added: “This area hasn’t had a new bookshop in years, but started having a huge influx of creative-minded people, particularly once Turner Contemporary opened. I ran the pop-ups regularly with the Margate Bookie festival (the first pop-up was only August 2017), grew a customer base and started to grow the business online. I knew the importance of branding and marketing so that helped. I built up a good following online, set up the website, and grew the business without a physical space. But a physical shop space was always extremely important to me.”
Wilkins revealed that she wants to make the 296 square ft space as inclusive as possible. “At the heart of The Margate Bookshop lies the desire for more accessible spaces that feel inviting to a wider audience, through which to promote art and, in particular, literature,” she said. “I think it’s a lot easier to encourage people to read more when there’s a beautiful space for them in which to browse and feel welcome. It was always important that the bookshop be clearly for the locals first and foremost, rather that specifically aimed at the day-trippers from London.”
For the launch on Sunday (26th May), she has asked musicians and poets to perform and there will be a small party in the evening after the first day of trading.
“The aim is for the bookshop to be a proper ‘general interest’ bookshop, so I’ll have a good selection of everything. Given my personal background and Margate’s flourishing cultural activity, I will be building up a good selection of art and photography books.”
Wilkins has ordered around 2000 new books and will add “1000 second hand books that I hoarded in my small London flat over the years”.
She said of the building, for which she signed a five-year lease: “My landlady is the wonderful textile artist Maxine Sutton, who was using the space as her studio and workshop space. I like that the building had previously been used for creative interests, it also means that the shop space already had some rather beautiful details in the decor. The building is maybe 200 years old or possibly more and is Grade II listed. I’m funding this business by putting every single penny I’ve ever saved into it. I lived fairly frugally in London, and cycled everywhere which saves a lot of money. The net profit from the pop-ups I held was around £2,000.”
There are also plans for events and a co-working space and she also plans to live in the space.
“I will be hosting a series of events with a wide range of subjects -exhibitions, live music hopefully, poetry slams, book readings and signings, book clubs etc...There’s also a room upstairs which I will be doing up with a friend. We’ll be using it as a coworking space called Writers’ Room - people will have access to desk space, fast wifi, hot drinks, printing services and it will be done up a bit like a cosy living room," said Wilkins. "We will also be hosting events in that space and it will be available for people to hire out - the rest of this lovely old building will be my living area.”
On Mondays the shop will be open 10am until 4pm and all other days it will be open 10am until 6pm.