Bookseller of the Month – August 2022: Imagined Things Bookshop
Georgia Eckert from Imagined Things Bookshop in conversation with William Shaw.
In 2018, Imagined Things Bookshop, in Harrogate, became known as the bookshop that was saved by a tweet. On 25 June 2018, bookshop owner, Georgia Eckert, let the world know her disappointment in the day’s sales:
“We only took £12.34 today. If anyone was thinking about buying a book, now would be a great time! Things have been tough recently – today the worst day ever. A card, a book, anything makes a huge difference to a small business like ours.”
Georgia had given up a job as a radiographer to open a bookshop. A book lover, she had taken the plunge, finding a premises in a sweet little Victorian arcade off Parliament Street, tidying it up, putting three coats of paint on the ceiling, and opening in July 2017. Admittedly, the shop was small and hard to find. Maybe if she’d known more, she would have started with a bigger stock. It had taken her a few weeks to realise that she needed a few more books than just the ones she loved herself.
A year later though, she’d learned a lot about the trade, so it felt crushing to have such a slow day. She was starting to confront the idea that her new shop might not be sustainable.
“Will it get to the point where I can’t pay the rent?”
But within minutes, that tweet was getting replies. Other bookshops joined her, telling her to stick with it, offering useful advice. Authors around the world re-tweeted her message. Out of nowhere, customers started ordering books and asking if Georgia shipped overseas. People who had never heard of the shop were promising to visit.
“It changed the shop’s fortunes. It literally changed everything,” says Georgia. “We had thousands of emails. We were on local radio, national radio, the Daily Mail. I’d never done interviews before in my life. I had one marketing guy come in and say, ‘Oh, that was a nice plan!’ If it had been a plan, I’d have waited until I had more help to handle it. We didn’t have a website. It was just me, a part-time bookseller, and we’d just taken on Debbie who is now our manager. It was chaos!”
From that point the shop took off, buoyed by the fact that Harrogate is, as we know, a town with an annual crime-writing festival. A few days after Georgia had first opened her doors, she was asked if she’d host a launch party for crime writer, Tammy Cohen.
“I’ve never really done one before,” answered Georgia. “I don’t know how they go, but go on.”
In Festival season, a host of crime writers started arriving. They have always been big supporters of Imagined Things. “CL Taylor, she organised loads of her author friends to come and sign books. Fiona Cummins is always lovely. When Mark Billingham came in, I only had one of his books but he signed it. ‘Sorry. It’s all I’ve got.’
“He was fine about it. But next year he came back. Really embarrassingly, the book he had signed the year before was still here! I thought he’s probably not going to come back again, but he did, and brought friends,” Georgia laughs.
“Lee Child dropped in. Richard Osman…”
Then there was the surreal experience of Joseph Knox visiting the shop on the same day SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon – a massive crime fiction fan – came in. “I was actually standing outside the shop with the author, Tony Kent, having a pastry when he said, ‘Isn’t that Nicola Sturgeon?’ She bought one of Joseph Knox’s books and I said, ‘Would you like him to sign it because he’s right here?’ Joseph Knox wrote – like – a paragraph as a dedication and he was saying ‘Oh my God oh my God. Nicola Sturgeon!’”
This year, Imagined Things outgrew their tiny shop in the arcade and they’ve just moved to brand new premises on Montpelier Parade. Once again, it’s a nervy time, but she’s optimistic that it marks a whole new beginning. “It’s a big leap for us,” says Georgia. “It’s significantly more expensive, but we couldn’t stay tucked away in the arcade forever. I want to reach more people.”
21 Montpellier Parade