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A Bookstore In England Issues A Despondent Tweet — And Enjoys An Unexpected Boost

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now a story of a very bad day that turned into a very good day. First, the bad. It was a rainy, gloomy day in Hampshire, England. And a 100-year-old bookstore closed out the till without selling a single book, not even a bookmark - nothing, zilch. So the guy behind that very quiet till tweeted a despondent tweet, but it went viral and produced the very good day that followed with hundreds of new orders.

With us now is the man who wrote that tweet, Robert Sansom. He has worked at the Petersfield Bookshop for 13 years, which is where we find him now. Welcome.

ROBERT SANSOM: Hello. Thank you for having me.

KELLY: Tell me, just how bleak was this Tuesday of this week?

SANSOM: Oh, we - it was bad. We had a storm come in across the country, and it was raining like nobody's business. Everybody was hunkered down at home. We had a few people in the shop, but they weren't in a buying mood. And I could understand that, to be honest. So, you know, it's sort of late afternoon. And I suddenly - it was - it just hit me that I hadn't actually put any money in the till at all, not sold a single book. That was really unusual.

And I spoke to other people who've worked here. We couldn't remember any other day, any other time in our collective memory when we'd not sold a single thing. So that was what prompted the tweet. I know it comes across as a almost desolate kind of (unintelligible) how awful it was.

KELLY: (Laughter) It was.

SANSOM: Actually, it was meant to be sort of wistful and, you know, oh, well, we'll try again another day.

KELLY: Would you just read it for us, what you actually tweeted?

SANSOM: I can't right at this second, but I can tell you roughly what the gist was.

KELLY: OK.

SANSOM: Essentially, I said, tumbleweed - not sold a single book all day, zero pounds, zero pence. And then I went on because we happened to have online books at a 25% sale in January. I just put the link to that underneath and didn't really think much of it. But I thought, you know, maybe someone would pick up on that and go and have a quick look. And boy, did they.

KELLY: Boy, did they. And I will just note that this despondent tweet was accompanied by photos of a completely deserted bookstore (laughter).

SANSOM: That's right.

KELLY: It was pitiful. So what happened?

SANSOM: Well, I closed up. I went home. And what I didn't know was that a friend of ours had had a bit of interaction in the past with the author Neil Gaiman, who's very well known for his series "American Gods" on the television.

KELLY: Yeah, sci-fi and fantasy writer, yeah, big deal.

SANSOM: Big deal. And he retweeted the tweet. And he has 2.8 million followers.

KELLY: Wow.

SANSOM: And I've never been at the middle of anything like this before. I had no idea those numbers underneath those things that you put on social media - they move. It was like watching the mileage on a car go up and up and up. And I thought there was something wrong with my phone.

By the time I got to work the next morning, we had nearly a thousand pounds worth of orders. And it's kept going, I have to say, all the time in front of a computer screen now. And since we've been talking, there's been another three orders pop up on the emails there. It's just been incredible and really heartwarming as well.

KELLY: You're speaking to us from the bookstore. Has it been busy today?

SANSOM: It has, it's been very busy. And also, the media interest has been phenomenal. I mean, the largest U.K. magazine program is here and has been filming. I've just got off the phone from a radio station in New Zealand.

KELLY: Oh, my goodness.

SANSOM: Yeah. And what's been really nice, actually, the people who have ordered these books, obviously, they haven't been buying our high-end antiquarian books. They've been finding something that they would like for 10, 20 pounds, and buying it to support and just to say, you know, we're here, and we appreciate a bookshop, which is just lovely. It feels like a big Internet hug.

KELLY: Well, congratulations. May I wish you many more such very good days to come.

SANSOM: Thank you very much. We're going to enjoy it while it lasts and then make the most of it after that as well.

KELLY: That is Robert Sansom speaking to us there from Petersfield Books in Hampshire, England, where they are indeed having a very good day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.