Mr B’s is looking to grow. We have an immediate one-off opportunity to add the adjacent premises to Mr B’s at 13 John Street to our existing shop.
But we don't want to just add some more bookshelves. We’re determined to create something bold; something that shows kids, and reminds grown-ups, how exciting reading can be and something that shows that the high street is very much alive and kicking.
We have outgrown our physical space both in terms of the busyness of the shop floor and the tiny space behind the scenes for servicing our wonderfully hectic shop. And now we're thrilled that our plan to expand without relocating has become a possibility, because every day we hear from our customers that our quirky labyrinthine space is part of what makes Mr B’s special.
We are hoping to take on the lease of our additional space this Autumn and immediately begin work on preparing it. We hope to open a small teaser-area in December 2018 before opening and integrating the new space fully and completing improvements to our existing shop, by February 2019.
But in order to make this happen we need to ask you to be involved as well, which is why we’ve created this crowdfunding campaign. We want to create something so special for Bath that all customers - locals and the visitors we help draw to the city’s high street - can come and experience the very best a twenty-first century bookshop can be. Together with local carpenters, artists and other experts we’re poised to make this all a reality – but we need your help.
Here is a taste of what we want to make happen.
A young visitor once wrote in our guest book “I love this shop …and I didn’t think I liked books”. We want more of that!
In our ever-changing digital world we understand and embrace a good bookseller’s crucial role in helping to build a nation of young readers. That’s why we want to create an incredible new children’s room that will give us the perfect space to talk with our young customers and share our love of reading with them.
Our new indoor woodland of books will mean:
- a vastly expanded inspirational space for young readers with two seating areas, cushioned book-nooks, a garden bench and, needless to say, many more books with which to excite every age group;
- mural artwork and other special woodland touches by Bristol artist Alex Lucas will complement her Reading Tree which we unveiled in 2017 and which will move to its new home at the centre of this leafy new kids room;
- regular children’s storytelling sessions for pre-school ages, something the existing shop configuration doesn’t allow for;
- space to introduce a new monthly YA book club to give Bath’s teenagers and young adults a dynamic forum for talking about books;
- space to host Reading Spas for children within the children’s room itself, allowing us to fully involve our younger guests in choosing the books that excite them the most;
- capacity at last for more specialist selections of fiction, non-fiction and graphic novels that are so crucial for encouraging reluctant readers and young readers with dyslexia; and
- space for children’s author events and regular weekend signing appearances.
We've also dreamed up a special area to celebrate the crafts of writing and illustration that underpin everything a bookshop is about.
- Writers and illustrators will be able to hire ”The Imaginarium” for up to a week at a time at a modest fee with all proceeds going to a local charity.
- “The Imaginarium” will be a sumptuous, cosy space with a beautiful desk and easel and decorated with trinkets and oddities galore, all designed to inspire and to spark the imagination – and all set in the heart of our vibrant bookshop.
- We hope that the those who spend time in “The Imaginarium” will be energised by spending time working amidst the energy of the Mr B’s shop floor.
- We want our customers to feel more connected than ever to the creative process behind the books we love to read; and we hope that seeing writers and illustrators at work might inspire the next generation.
As well as the Imaginarium and the Wood between the Words, a bigger bolder Mr B's will mean:
- a second in-house event space meaning we can host authors either in our existing salon-like 34-seater bibliotherapy room or a 50-seater ground floor space;
- vastly improved wheelchair access and comfort, including to ground floor events;
- further local jobs including the immediate recruitment of two new booksellers to our team;
- more opportunities, thanks to the additional space, to collaborate with our friends in other local high street businesses on special events and occasions;
- a special new illustrators' corner near a cosy fireplace allowing us to showcase and offer for sale prints and original artwork by a selected “book illustrator of the moment”;
- a total of 38 new bays of books and many new display areas which will connect seamlessly with the existing shop to create a meandering world of books to explore; and
- the rejuvenation of our existing spaces to improve displays and navigation and allow for better use of our windows that are often decorated by visiting illustrators.
Above all, we want this to be a space which welcomes everyone, whether or not they’ve yet discovered the joys of reading. It should inspire book-agnostics and dazzle book-obsessives and it should keep Mr B’s at the centre of Bath’s unique high street offer - at a time when that high street needs good news stories to keep attracting visitors and serving local customers imaginatively.
This planned expansion is the most important step on our bookselling journey since we first opened Mr B’s in 2006.
Back then, the shop was on just two floors and was manned only by husband and wife owners Nic and Juliette Bottomley, Juliette’s brother Harvey and the shop dog Vlashka.
Twelve years on and we are proud to have grown the business to the stage where we can employ 10 full-time booksellers as well as 3 part-time staff who work on our subscription gifts. Nic and Juliette still run the business, though Vlashka is getting a little elderly for regular shop floor appearances.
From the very outset, Mr B’s has tried to build itself a reputation for three things in particular:
- consistently providing the highest level of customer service thanks to our loyal team, all chosen for their love and knowledge of books;
- being a place where books are talked about and recommended animatedly all of the time; and
- being a beautiful and slightly eccentric shop which is a joy to visit for our regulars and which is a destination that book-lovers from outside the city will seek out.
As the shop has matured we’ve built on each of these aims consistently. We created our indulgent book consultation “Reading Spas” and then our bespoke Reading Subscriptions to keep the book conversations going.
We added endless oddities and quirks to our space from our claw-foot bath book display, to our Tin-Tin wall and from our Chris Riddell graffiti toilet to our ceilings of cloth bags and of authors’ pens. A visit to Mr B’s should be about book discovery and just a little bit life-enhancing.
Over the years Mr B’s has won and been shortlisted for various awards including twice being named UK Independent Bookshop of the Year (British Book Awards); being listed as one of the Ten Best Bookshops in the World (Guardian); winning two Bath Life Awards (for retail and for innovation) and being short-listed in the Government’s Best Small Shops Award.
More important to us than those gongs though is the warm glow that kicks in when we get daily feedback from customers, or when we read the blogs people have written about their experiences visiting the shop, or when we're told we've played a part in getting a kid reading again, or when we see the lovely things people have written about us on Google and Tripadvisor.
Today, on Bookshop Day, an author described Mr B's as "a rarity, an oddity and a real treasure" and said "this isn't your everyday bookshop, it's probably the best in the world". Well, that's too much, and we can name many dozens of bookshops we remain in awe of, BUT it's this kind of response to our lively and irreverent approach, that makes us so determined to work with our supporters and customers to make this new chapter happen.
The cost of this expansion can and will in part be funded from the business’ cash-flow, existing facilities and from our own further investment. Mr B’s has been soundly and profitably run with an increasing turnover in each of its twelve years of trading to date and we do have a robust business plan going forward.
However, this is an urgent, necessary and large-scale project (our shop floor space will expand by 55%) which represents the perfect opportunity for Mr B’s to offer much more to our community and our visitors, just as Britain’s high streets are coming under threat.
That’s why, to do this properly and quickly, we’re turning to our many loyal customers and supporters in Bath and beyond. Raising funds through crowdfunding will provide the capital needed to bring The Woods between the Words and The Imaginarium to life and to ensure we can achieve our vision for this new endeavour. Your money will be spent directly on creating these amazing spaces with the help of local traders, craftspeople and artists.
We have put together a long list of wonderful and oddball rewards to thank you for your pledges. We have some exclusive thank you gifts, special sponsorships and a number of one-off experiences.
Every one of our backers will receive a limited edition "Mr B's Imaginarium" cloth bag and will be thanked on our website. We’re also creating a supporters' ceiling in the newly expanded shop and having our friends at Meticulous Ink make a stunning letterpress thank-you bookmark.
For the first time ever – and exclusively for this campaign - we’re introducing three special Mr B’s memberships named for some appropriate authors and characters, which will entitle supporters to ongoing discounts on their book purchases. We’ve also got special book selections and all kinds of opportunities for you, or your business, to connect more with Mr B’s – for example by having your own shelf, working with us for a day, joining our podcast or sponsoring objects in the shop.
When it comes to books, we acknowledge and understand the digital but we shamelessly celebrate the physical. We believe that human recommendation is the perfect antidote to the algorithm. And we are sure that the best way to inspire the next generation of readers is a warm-hearted zany space full of grown-up book obsessives ready to share book ideas with them.
This expansion will secure our future ability to pursue these beliefs, and will allow us to do so all the more successfully, theatrically and for the benefit of ever more readers.
We are so lucky to have loyal fans and advocates of our bookshop far and wide and we hope that you will choose to pledge your support for this project and become an even more integral part of Mr B’s.
If you aren’t able to pledge, you can still be a huge help to us by sharing this campaign as much as you can via any form of social media, word-of-mouth, letter, postcard, phone call – anything, we’ll love you for it!