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How I started this thing: Ariel Booksellers

Book store by day, community hub by night. Ariel Booksellers' Julia Blanks shares how a grant helped the much-loved shop try its hand at in-store events.

We’d just been talking about doing evening events when I got a phone call from the City of Sydney to tell me about the business support grant, which helps businesses develop a night-time presence.

We moved Ariel Books from Paddington to Darlinghurst about a year ago, and we knew we wanted to keep our doors open later for the community. But money’s always tight, so it felt like a tricky one. As soon as I heard about the grant, I knew straight away that we had to apply.

The idea we had was to run a mid-week in-conversation series with authors at Ariel every couple of weeks. We have a professional journalist who chats to the author, usually someone who has a new book out, for about 40 minutes in front of the crowd. Then there’s about 20 minutes of question time afterwards.

So far, we’ve had 3 evenings and they’ve been a hit. We’ve hosted Derek Reilly, who wrote a book about Bob Hawke called Wednesdays with Bob, Hugh Riminton with his autobiography and Ken Hillman, who’s written a fascinating book about dying called A Good Life to the End.

About 25 people, mostly locals, come for this intimate evening event and the feedback has been great. It’s a lovely atmosphere, and something a bit different to do with your evening. Plus, the fact that it’s just an hour means that you can come here, then go to a restaurant or a bar. You meet new people, and it’s only $10. And it feels like a great community-building exercise.

We have a little core group of 6 or 7 people who have been to every one, and have started to bring their friends.

The application itself wasn’t too tricky: it took maybe 2 to 3 hours to fill in and submit. I’d never gone for a grant before, but I just thought that I’d give it a go. I was thrilled to hear that we’d been successful a few months later.

But I did have a bit of an issue with the budget. I didn’t really understand it when I was filling in the application. That led to some confusion, but fortunately City of Sydney have been really helpful in sorting it out. So my top piece of advice would be that if you’re confused about anything: call the City. Don’t just forge ahead like I did. They’re really helpful. Having said that, don’t be too daunted if you make a mistake — as I’ve learned, it can be fixed.

The grant has helped us get the series off the ground and let people know about it. We’ve been able to afford for the event to be filmed, and now we can run ads in the paper.

And I can pay for staff to be here instead of managing on my own.

It just means it’s a more efficient, professional exercise and we feel like it has legs. We know we can keep going and invest our time because we’ve got the money behind us.

The ultimate goal is to make Ariel a fixture in the community, an option for a weeknight activity and a contributor to the cultural scene here in Darlinghurst. I think that’s really important. People are really yearning for stuff that they can do in the evening that’s affordable. Eventually we might have to move to have another venue if we continue to grow, but for now we really love hosting the community in among the books.

How I started this thing is a series showcasing great grant stories from across our area.

If you have a great idea that would benefit the local community, the City of Sydney’s grants and sponsorships program may be able to help.

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