Crippling rent and the rise of online book sales and e-readers made it an easy decision for book store owners Beryl and Doug Newing to retire at the weekend.
The couple, who have been in the bookstore game for more than 20 years, said the expiry of their lease and an increase in rent made it the perfect time to close Newings Bookshop at Dapto Mall.
"Even a $1 rent increase would have been too much for us to manage in this current climate," Beryl Newing said.
"I don't believe the management at any shopping centre has an understanding of the current struggle of small retailers in meeting rent repayments. To us, the expiry of our lease heralded the opportunity to move into retirement and not to have to face any further rent stress."
The Newings' rent at Dapto set them back $11,000 a month or $132,000 a year.
In their Angus & Robertson store at Shellharbour Square, which closed down four years ago, their rent was more than double that amount at $28,000 a month - $340,000 a year.
Mrs Newing said the enormous rents meant small businesses owners were forced to shut down their stores rather than on-sell them.
"If we didn't have the rent stress we would have liked to have had the opportunity to sell the business but with rents the way they are, you can't because people aren't going to make any money from it," she said. "When you're paying rent like this, your turnover has to continually go up and up to meet the rent commitments."
Mr Newing said discount stores such as Big W sold books below cost and in the past three years had begun to offer an "unbelievable range of books".
"We can't continue to compete with that," he said.
"In the last 18 months, people would come into our store and use the expertise of our staff to find out what books were good and they would then walk out and buy it online or at discount stores such as Big W. In the end, we had become an information source for people. It wasn't a very pleasant time for us."
They got through the hard times with the support of loyal customers and dedicated staff.
"We had customers who would never have bought a book anywhere else," Mrs Newing said. "When we closed, one customer made the comment that a shopping centre without a bookshop was like a shopping centre without a soul. Our shop had become very much a community bookshop and it's been hard to walk away because you form attachments to people. They become almost part of your family really."
The closure of Newings Bookshop has meant there are now only four book stores operating in the Illawarra, including one at the University of Wollongong.
While the past few years had been a struggle, the former high school science teachers said being in the the bookselling business had been fun.
Some memorable moments included the book signing of Ray Martin and the much-anticipated release of the Harry Potter books.