Meet the owner of the independent bookshop in the Yorkshire Dales that has bucked the trend and become the heart of a community

When Tanya Carter opened Limestone Books in Settle just six months before the first lockdown, she could never have envisaged how quickly she'd have to adapt and evolve.

Yet she has been delighted at how the readers of Settle have taken her independent bookshop to their hearts - and how sustainably-minded residents seized on their local alternative to Amazon.

With a prime location on the market square, Limestone Books is small but its size enables it to offer a curated, personalised shopping experience devoid of 'overwhelming stacks' of dusty tomes.

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Tanya Carter inside her bookshop, Limestone BooksTanya Carter inside her bookshop, Limestone Books
Tanya Carter inside her bookshop, Limestone Books
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Tanya - who moved to Settle with her partner from Cambridge eight years ago - has built relationships with local authors and carefully analysed the literary tastes of both her core customers and summer visitors.

And rather than imperil her fledgling business, lockdowns and uncertainty have instead helped localised bookselling to thrive.

Tanya was inspired to launch the venture when she visited a similar shop on holiday in Northumberland - and admits the decision to open her own was made on a whim rather than the result of a long-nurtured ambition. Having worked in lingerie and homeware shops and an art gallery in Settle, she was keenly aware of how much a shop that provided a personal service to its patrons could succeed.

"I just thought - why hasn't Settle got a shop like this? There were a few shops up for rent at the time, and I contacted suppliers who sent a rep round to meet me. I made the decision after talking to him for 15 minutes!"

A Covid-secure counter is one of several adjustments Tanya has made in the past yearA Covid-secure counter is one of several adjustments Tanya has made in the past year
A Covid-secure counter is one of several adjustments Tanya has made in the past year
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In September 2019, Limestone Books opened in a former jeweller's premises, and Tanya offered to act as a collection point for discs entitling visitors to two hours of free parking - a canny move which brought potential customers into her shop straight away.

Her breezy approach extended to relying on her own instincts as a bookworm rather than market research when deciding on the genres she would stock.

"I was very naive and didn't do much research, but I've been pleasantly surprised by which guesses have proved correct."

Surmising that Settle's large population of retirees meant that most children's books would be bought by grandparents as gifts rather than young families, she included only a small junior section, and instead devoted her limited space to a large array of fiction titles.

The shop's stock reflects the demographics of the area, with a focus on adult fictionThe shop's stock reflects the demographics of the area, with a focus on adult fiction
The shop's stock reflects the demographics of the area, with a focus on adult fiction
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"I'm a big fiction reader, but I take a lot of guidance from my supplier too. As it's such an outdoorsy area, I wanted an adventure section for fell runners, climbers and cyclists. With non-fiction, I took a guess on subjects like history and cookery, and I watch how they perform and develop them based on requests I get from customers. Topics like nature are much more popular now, and politics and the environment have built up too."

The looming presence of Amazon was also only a background concern for Tanya, despite the online seller having sounded the death knell for many a bricks-and-mortar retailer before her.

"It didn't really cross my mind. I've actually had people come in with their Amazon lists and telling me they won't be buying from there any more! I think in Settle, there is a lot of awareness of the environment, that campaigning side is strong, and people want their high street to be populated and to get behind their independent traders."

Her first six months of trading surpassed all expectations.

She occupies a former jeweller's shop on the market squareShe occupies a former jeweller's shop on the market square
She occupies a former jeweller's shop on the market square

"A lot of local authors came in to introduce themselves, and we did a few talks and signings. Julia Chapman, who writes the Dales Detectives series, lives nearby and the books are based on Settle. People love anything set in the local area.

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"The run-up to Christmas 2019 was really busy and I was blown away. I wasn't quite prepared, but we hit the ground running and it was really exciting, there was such a buzzy atmosphere.

"January and February 2020 were a bit quieter, and I was opening seven days a week. I thought Sunday would be a good browsing day, but it turned out to be really dead. I've learned a lot - like how popular crime fiction is!"

Tanya had already decided to close the shop before she was ordered to do so in March, as footfall had dwindled once fears around Covid-19 spread. At first, she was in limbo - her suppliers were in shutdown and though she tried cycle courier deliveries, customers were cautious about doorstep contact.

Now, she offers free hand delivery to customers living locally, many of whom are shielding in isolated villages.

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"I gradually found how to make it work. The customers are mostly local, but we get some people who'd come into the shop when they were on holiday and remembered us. We have a lady in Scotland who set up her own subscription list and asked me to send her one book a week.

"I was selling a lot more fiction during lockdown - I think it's the escapism, people say it's hard to concentrate on reality when nothing feels real."

Opening up again in the autumn proved lucrative, and Tanya's second December was more successful than her first. She became so busy she had to delay the launch of her personal subscription service, but has now begun offering it.

"Customers choose either hardback or paperback, and give me their preferred genres, but the choices are entirely mine and I enjoy collating them. With new releases, I sometimes get special deals with the publishers so I can include things like tote bags and bookmarks with their delivery."

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Although plans for the future are tentative, Tanya has begun to move into online sales by joining, allowing her to receive a portion of the profits from her virtual bookshelf on the site. When events at Victoria Hall resume, she hopes to run pop-up stalls alongside them, and she is also developing relationships with around 20 book clubs operating in and around Settle who are eager to hear her recommendations.

"I've contemplated expanding into a larger shop, but I don't think I really need to - with my next-day order service, I can get the books people want quickly. I don't want people to be overwhelmed by stacks of books, and with a smaller site, I can keep my displays interesting and attract their attention. It's a curated selection and customers appreciate that - it's a calm environment and they can get a sense of my personality."

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