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Independent bookshops are a cornerstone of many high streets, offering cosy reading nooks and personalised recommendations to those willing to venture into town for their next paperback.
But running one is no easy feat. Sapphire Bates feared she would have to close the doors of her shop in Kent after rising business costs and a drop in custom left her £800 in the red. But an appeal on Twitter caught the imagination of book lovers and top-selling authors.
“We need your help,” Bates wrote. “I run Book Bodega, an indy bookshop in Ramsgate. Winter is killing us, it’s so quiet and we need to make £800 by Tuesday to pay our bills.”
Alongside the tweet, Bates, 29, posted a photo of her shop with no customers inside. But after reaching out to her followers for support, she said she was “gobsmacked” by the response.
“It was such a difference on Sunday,” she said. “We had people coming in all day. Even people who weren’t in a position to buy were coming in just to say, ‘We really love what you’re doing, we like your shop and we want to see independent bookshops do well’. There’s been a lot of love. Everyone’s been so kind. I’m so grateful.”
Bates, who opened Book Bodega in June last year with her partner, Nicholas Turner, said the response was “a massive motivational boost”. The couple have struggled to get authors to come to the shop, as Ramsgate is often overlooked by publishers when they are launching books. Adam Kay, the author of This is Going to Hurt, saw the tweet and offered to do a free event in the shop. Others who got in touch to offer support include Anthony Horowitz, the writer of the Alex Rider series; Sue Perkins, former host of The Great British Bake Off; the romance writer Jill Mansell; and Deborah Frances-White, presenter of the podcast The Guilty Feminist.
Bates said that she knew running a bookshop in a seaside town would come with challenges during winter but she had not realised just how difficult it would be. “Winter was tight but we’d managed to pay for everything,” she said. “This month was the first where we’ve been short by quite a lot of money.”
Bates had about 500 followers on Twitter before last weekend. Now she has more than 7,000. The shop is now inviting cash and book donations so it can give back to the local community. It is supporting Cliftonville Community Centre in Margate, which helps struggling families in the area, and Bates hopes to support other local causes.
Bates hopes her appeal reminds people to support local, independent bookshops, whether online or visiting in person. “I know it’s not just us that’s having a hard time this winter. It’s all bookshops, across the board,” she said.