New premises increases footfall for Orb’s Bookshop
In October 2020, the Clashindarroch Fund awarded £7,969 to help a community bookshop set up in new, improved and expanded premises in Huntly town centre.
Huntly Heritage and Bookshop Community was set up in 2013 when the owners of Orb's bookshop retired. The group was formed so that the bookshop, then on Deveron Street, could be retained and continue to benefit the area. A team of more than 20 volunteers operate the bookshop, with previous grants from the Clashindarroch Fund supporting the training of these volunteers.
The group's work goes beyond running a bookshop, providing a range of related activities aimed at supporting reading in the community. The volunteers visit local primary schools, support local writers through events and promotions, and participate in community activities such as the Huntly Hairst and events at the Brander Library. The group provides free books to Scott's hospital and travellers at Huntly station. The old bookshop premises were used by local groups and for book launches and author visits, and the new premises will be too through its new video-conferencing capability.
In 2020, Huntly and District Development Trust refurbished the former Royal Bank of Scotland building in The Square, which it owns, and offered the lease on the building to the bookshop. The building was much more spacious than the Deveron Street premises and more central.
The move to new premises necessitated buying display units, tables, seating and a sales counter. A new laptop was also required to help manage increased stock levels and a dehumidifier to make the basement suitable for book storage. Signage on the shopfront was needed, which required listed building consent. The fixtures from the old shop were repaired and reused where possible.
The move has now been completed with costs being under budget, leading to £1,114 of unused funding being returned to the Clashindarroch Fund. Volunteers contributed hundreds of hours of their time, transferring and cataloguing stock and building additional shelving.
The new shop has more space for books and events and is in a prominent position, encouraging footfall and offering a better environment for customers and volunteers. Takings have since increased ten-fold, putting the shop on a more sustainable footing. The new displays can be easily moved, making the space more flexible for events. The back office is now a well-equipped area for processing online sales, a part of the business which grew during the pandemic.
As Leon Stelmach, Treasurer explained:
"The move to new premises has allowed Orb's Community Bookshop to have a fantastic new space for the shop. It is modern, bright, clean and warm. A very comfortable place to work in for the volunteers and a fantastic shop for all our customers to enjoy."
Perhaps inevitably, the pandemic made aspects of the move more challenging. Plans developed on paper needed to be revised once it was possible to access the premises to improve the layout. This resulted in some minor changes to costs.
The new shop has a meeting space used one day a week by two banks, providing a vital facility for customers who could otherwise be excluded from financial services as they have difficulty banking online. There are also plans for the meeting room to host a display of local arts and crafts.
The shop is a draw for visitors to the area, providing maps, information on local history, guides to ancestry, and Scottish interest books, particularly the work of George MacDonald, a late nineteenth-century author from Huntly who pioneered the fantasy novel.
As Leon went on to say, the benefits of the new shop are being felt by the whole town:
"For the town itself, there is a feeling of excitement about our opening … our brand spanking new shop windows are of great interest to passers-by. Hopefully, Orb's Community Bookshop will be the first in a series of new developments in the centre of Huntly, which will help regenerate the town. We are very excited that we can be a part of this…. 'A bit of life at last' is a frequent quote overheard."