Mr B's Emporium in Bath is crowdfunding to expand its premises, with plans for "something that shows kids, and reminds grown-ups, how exciting reading can be and that shows the high street is very much alive and kicking".
Seizing the opportunity presented by a forthcoming vacancy in the shop's adjacent premises at 13 John Street, currently occupied by a gallery, Mr B's owner Nic Bottomley has launched a crowdfunding campaign online to raise £45,000 to enable it to take on the lease this autumn to expand without relocating. The new lease will allow the shop to gain as much as 55% extra floor space, with which it can stock more titles and host new events.
Bottomley - who is also the current president of the Booksellers Association - told The Bookseller the shop would secure the lease "one way or another" but crowdfunding would allow the shop "to do it the way we really want to do it", helping it to realise plans for a new children's section (currently a thoroughfare to upstairs, which makes it difficult for the shop to put on as many events as it would like) and a playful space called the Imaginarium where aspiring and established writers and illustrators can practice their craft in the midst of its playful retail space whilst connecting with readers.
A new, out-of-the-way children's section means children will have more space, Mr B's can stock more books and it can put on more events, such as storytelling and children's book clubs, in store hours. Ambitious plans include making it into a "new indoor woodland of books" for children, called the Wood between the Words, decorated by mural artwork and at the centre of which would be Bristol artist Alex Lucas' Reading Tree, unveiled in 2017. This space would offer more seating, including cushioned "book-nooks" for children, and room for more titles for every age group as well as a wider selection for young readers with dyslexia. In terms of events, it would host regular children’s storytelling sessions for pre-school ages (something the existing shop configuration doesn’t allow for), a new monthly YA book club "to give Bath’s teenagers and young adults a dynamic forum for talking about books" and Reading Spas for children.
The Imaginarium Bottomley hopes to create is meanwhile intended as "a special area to celebrate the crafts of writing and illustration that underpin everything a bookshop is about". Available for writers and illustrators to hire - with all proceeds going to charity - the plan is to make this "a sumptuous, cosy space with a beautiful desk and easel and decorated with trinkets and oddities galore, all designed to inspire and to spark the imagination – and all set in the heart of [Mr B's] vibrant bookshop ... We want our customers to feel more connected than ever to the creative process behind the books we love to read; and we hope that seeing writers and illustrators at work might inspire the next generation."
Among the benefits of having a second in-house event space would be that authors could choose whether to host events in its existing 34-seater bibliotherapy room or 50-seater ground floor space; more opportunities, thanks to the additional space, to collaborate with other local high street businesses on special events and occasions; and allow for the rejuvenation of existing spaces to improve displays and navigation. Bottomley also promised further local jobs including the immediate recruitment of two new booksellers to its team.
Assuming Mr B's can secure the lease, "a small teaser-area" has been proposed for December 2018 prior to opening, which would then be followed by the full integration of the new space by February 2019.
Since only launching the page at 5pm last night, Mr B's has already raised £11,570 of its £45,000 target. It is offering various incentives for making pledges, including the opportunity to join the crew as an honorary bookseller for the day (already sold out) and special memberships for ongoing discounts on future purchases.
Bottomley commented to The Bookseller: "We launched the crowdfunder at 5pm last night. Frankly we've been blown away. It is just incredible. And it is quite humbling. We know we have a huge amount of love from our regular customers, and we knew they would be keen to play a part in securing our future and growing in this way. But I didn't imagine some of the lovely comments we have been getting on our page that we have. And we had no idea how quickly people would chip in.
"We need as many fuzzy glows around the high street as we can ... Every bookshop has its community and its superfans and I think anyone from within the industry can take heart from this as one demonstration of how close people hold bookshops and how important bookshops are to them. People are clearly very quick - customers and those in our community - to get on-board to support the idea of a bookshop cementing its place in the high street and doing more and more for getting kids reading."