New chapter as indie bookshop opens doors in Harrogate

Owner Georgia Duffy, at the opening of her new shop.
Credit: James Hardisty
Owner Georgia Duffy, at the opening of her new shop. Credit: James Hardisty
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These days the opening of a new independent bookshop is a rarity. Even more unusual is a published author running one.

So there’s been quite a stir in Harrogate, where on Saturday, a new indie bookseller, Imagined Things, officially opened in Westminster Arcade.

Independent bookseller numbers are in decline, but Georgia Duffy believes the trend is reversing

Independent bookseller numbers are in decline, but Georgia Duffy believes the trend is reversing

Owner, former radiographer Georgia Duffy, gave up her job at the local hospital to make her dream of owning a bookshop come true.

The author - her fantasy novel Futurespan came out last May - has always had a passion for reading and “very nearly” studied English over Diagnostic Radiography at University.

It may be the biggest gamble of her life so far, but she said: “Often the easiest answers take the longest - opening a bookshop seems so obvious now.”

It’s a new chapter for Harrogate, because while it has a Waterstones, a WH Smith, and a second-hand bookshop, it is the first time in nearly 20 years it can also boast an independent bookshop.

Heidi Keates, 4, from Harrogate, in the newly-opened Imagined Things

Heidi Keates, 4, from Harrogate, in the newly-opened Imagined Things

The absence of an indie bookshop may surprise outsiders, given its healthy literary appetite. There are three festivals devoted to the written word, and the shop’s opening coincided with one of them, the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, now in its 15th year, which sold 16,000 tickets.

Nationally, however, independent bookshops are in decline. According to the Booksellers Association’s annual membership figures, they fell this year for the eleventh year in a row, from 1,535 in 2005, to 867 in 2017. But the rate of closure has slowed.

The pressures are manifold: rising business rates and rent, competition from e-books and online retailers, as well as increasing growth in other forms of entertainment, like Netflix and gaming.

But Miss Duffy, who hopes the bookshop will be the perfect environment to get more writing done, sees reasons to be optimistic: “I think there has started to be a reverse in the trend, and people are going back to traditional things. It is like the revival in vinyl.

“We all have fancy technology - you can read a book wherever and download it, but I think people are a bit sick of it, having to keep things charged.

“People like to see a book, put it on a book shelf, keep it or pass it to a friend.

“I think there is nothing better than browsing for your next read in a physical bookshop, and nothing compares to flicking through the pages of an actual book. ”

The shop is a traditional bookseller for the most part, but it is also selling cards, stationery and gifts.

On Saturday night it hosted its first author event for Tammy Cohen’s new novel They All Fall Down.

“There were more people than could fit in the shop,” she said. “The books sold out. It was great.”

She added: “People are really pleased. There’s been lots of good feedback.

“People have commented on the good selection of books and lots of people are delighted there’s an independent bookseller. It’s been really nice.

“Going forward we plan to host author events and signings to connect readers and authors, and to forge connections with the Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival and the Harrogate History Festival.

“We want to add to the already strong literary roots of the town.

“We care about books and reading (we wouldn’t be a very good bookshop if we didn’t after all), and more than that we care about the local area and its people.”