Dartmouth Community Bookshop
Pictured left to right are Dartmouth Community Bookshop chairman Tony Fyson and secretary Kathy Stansfield with manager Andrea Saunders.
The trailblazers behind Dartmouth Community Bookshop are taking action to ensure the not-for-profit venture enjoys an enduring shelf life.
A key time is rapidly approaching in the bookshop’s brief existence and the team are determined not to let their mission become a fleeting footnote in Dartmouth’s retail history.
Since it opened in Higher Street on December 5th last year, the community-run store has made its mark in the town and is set to break-even at the end of the first year’s trading.
But crucial issues must be addressed by March 31st, which spells the end of the shop’s initial six-month tenancy, generously offered for a peppercorn rent by the Dartmouth Trust.
Tony Fyson, chairman of Dartmouth Community Bookshop, said decisions must be made about whether to improve or extend the store’s existing premises, subject to agreement with the trust, or move to a bigger shop.
To help make this key judgement the bookshop committee launched a fundraising initiative in January, selling shares to the public. They hope this will raise £50,000, which will also allow them to increase the shop’s stock and develop outreach and training programmes.
Tony reports a good response so far to the scheme, which ends on March 16th, saying: ‘People are taking up our share options. We are very well satisfied with the way people are rallying around.’
The new operation is the culmination of a major community campaign to ensure Dartmouth retained a bookshop after the old Harbour Bookshop closed last September.
Thanks to a loan from an anonymous benefactor the new shop was stocked with hundreds of new books.
The store is run by volunteers, apart from the shop manager Andrea Saunders who had worked at the old bookshop for 26 years.
Tony and co-founder Kathy Stansfield, who is the group secretary, came up with the idea of opening a community bookshop over a pint at Bayard’s Cove, outside the Dartmouth Arms.
Horrified at the prospect of Dartmouth becoming a town devoid of a bookshop, they set the wheels in motion to meet the needs of local bookworms.
Tony, who admits to being a ‘book maniac,’ never doubted their inspiring challenge would work.
‘Our approach has been to do it first and have our committee meetings later rather than try to plan it,’ he said.
‘I never doubted it would work and I’m not worried about its future because I’m confident we are viable and we are not going to collapse.
‘It’s very early days, we are only two months in, and obviously we want a good summer but we do seem to be following the pattern of sales of the old Harbour Bookshop, albeit at a lower level.’
The new shop hit the ground running when it opened as Christmas was approaching and the gift lists of the town’s avid readers needed fulfilling. Tony was frantically laying the carpet an hour before the first customers came in, the phone lines were down during the first days of trading and the computer system had yet to be fitted.
Andrea proved her weight in gold at this time, working around the clock to ensure the shop’s smooth running.
Kathy said: ‘The pre-Christmas thing was quite traumatic as we had no machine or phone lines and we had to hand-write everything.
‘Andrea had the computer at home. She was selling books in the shop and then going home and putting the ISBN numbers through the computer. It was hours and hours of work for her.
‘Yet people were coming into the shop and there was a great atmosphere. It was quite extraordinary.’
Thanks to Andrea and the computer, books the shop does not stock can be ordered and delivered the next day.
Despite admitting to owning a Kindle e-book, Tony, who also has a ‘huge collection’ of “real” books, is also confident the growing popularity of virtual reading gadgets will never overtake the time-honoured traditional way to get stuck into a good book.
‘We are not of the school that thinks books are dead,’ he said. ‘We think there is a major need for the printed book and I speak as one who has just been given a Kindle. I will use it when travelling and probably at no other time.
‘The older generation who are book lovers do not stop loving the printed book because somebody has invented the Kindle and we get the impression when children come in that they relate to printed books too because they’re not impersonal electronic objects, they are real things.
‘We do not offer the sort of discount you can get on the internet and it is a worry but I believe there is a real relationship between browsing and buying and that is what we can provide.’
In order to enhance the browsing experience, one of the improvements Tony and his team want to implement is more space to do just that, plus more shelf space so they can stock more books.
He said: ‘The shop is quite small but we have got a basement, which is very wet, and one of the things we have in mind is to improve it. We could possibly also extend out the back, where there is a little yard, perhaps by selling second-hand books from timber weather proof boxes.
‘We are thinking laterally at the moment. Moving is one of the possibilities.
‘One asset we have got is being near The Cherub, it’s in the guidebooks and people come up to see it and then they notice us.’
Continued support from the public is vital if the community bookshop is to start another chapter, Kathy said.
‘If people value books they have to use the shop or lose it,’ she stated.
‘We are here and we can grow if people support us.’
Kathy said the goodwill from locals so far has been ‘extraordinary,’ adding: ‘It has been good fun and very rewarding, and there is more to come, hopefully.’
Tony believes the community bookshop is hugely important to Dartmouth on many levels and invites prospective investors to splash out on as many shares as they can.
‘Dartmouth is a real community and a real community needs a bookshop,’ he said.
To find out more about the fundraising scheme or to become a volunteer, pop into the bookshop,
phone 01803 839571 or
Interview by Ginny Ware
First published March/April 2012 By the Dart