The Rabbit Hole Bookshop’s 2020 Reflections: “Our strength has always been rooted in the local community”
As community is so important to us, in June we rented a stall at the local town market, to enable those wary of going into shops access to browse, order and collect new books, writes Nick Webb. | PA Images
Nick Webb, owner of The Rabbit Hole Independent bookshop in Brigg, looks back at the high's and low's of a tough and challenging year for his business.
Our aim for the Rabbit Hole bookshop is to create a community hub. Since opening in 2017, we have quickly gained confidence, and by January 2018 moved into our current larger premises.
By January 2020, we began making real progress and organised our first KidsLitFest and first large author event, involving over 10 local primary schools. Unfortunately, the school event was cancelled as it was scheduled to take place on 26 March, three days after we entered a national lockdown.
Regrettably, we made the decision to close the bookshop completely. Work had only just begun towards developing a website for the shop, but it was by no means designed to aid with sales.
We hoped to receive government support through the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, but found – as did many other newer businesses – that we did not qualify. Fortunately, our worries of survival were allayed with prompt action from North Lincolnshire Council, ensuring our business grant application was quickly processed.
As community is so important to us, in June we rented a stall at the local town market, to enable those wary of going into shops access to browse, order and collect new books. We also set up outdoor meetings for reading groups to get together.
Having an online presence helps, but it does not replace the high street and the individuality of small businesses like ours
By the summer, the bookshop was still in a very precarious financial position. We invested a great deal of time and money reorganising the shop, to ensure it would be able to re-open safely under government guidelines. But by October, we had no choice but to access the Bounce Back loan.
Despite various difficulties, in the period from September through to December we arranged virtual school visits from publishers, including Chris Riddell, Harriett Muncaster, Martin Impey, A.M. Dassu and Nick Sharratt. At every event, books were priced below RRP to help support the community and reached thousands of pupils from primary schools across the local area. These events were much needed for children, parents and teachers at the end of a tough year.
November was a real low point for our bookshop. As a non-essential outlet, we were forced to close our doors again. This time we did move online, but once again did not qualify for government support – aside from a small discretionary grant. Nevertheless, we had the added support of The BA, Bookshop.Org and a presence on social media. We received orders, but the emotional strain was immense.
Our lowest point came one rainy Saturday, when a young girl we met through voluntary work with the local youth club knocked on the door and asked to come in for a book to read. Sadly, we had to explain that we could not let her in, or even hand her a book. The second lockdown was tougher than the first for many reasons. There was more confusion and delay over grants and it really felt that smaller businesses were being treated far less fairly.
As the end of the year is now approaching, despite everything, we are still here and have started a small Indie Market with local traders, which will hopefully run monthly in 2021. We are also sponsoring a stall on the Market to help support other new traders and working hard with another local business (Yellowbelly Pizza) to get ready for ‘Totally Locally’ events next year.
It has been a tough, challenging and frightening year. But our strength has always been rooted in the local community. Having an online presence helps, but it does not replace the high street and the individuality of small businesses like ours, who during this year have fought hard to survive and believe in themselves.
Nick Webb is the co-owner of The Rabbit Hole independent bookshop in Brigg, North Lincolnshire and a former teacher. He has chosen to invest the fee for this piece back into the local community.