A physical bookstore has opened in Thirroul, in a small sign of the industry’s return to form after a difficult decade of encroachment by online behemoths, discount superstores and e-readers.
Collins Booksellers Thirroul is one of only five dedicated bookshops in the Illawarra and one of just two with street frontage (along with The Bookshop Kiama).
Part of the Anita’s Theatre building off Lawrence Hargrave Drive, the store tips its hat to its old-world associations with stained glass windows, stay-a-while chairs and a pianola that has century-old music rolls running through it.
These touches – along with a dedicated children’s reading space and planned roster of events, book clubs and author visits – are part of a strategy to set the store apart from online competitors and to “build an experience”, says Amanda Isler – who operates the shop with her sister, Deborah Thompson.
“The thing about online is, you can never be as competitive with the price,” said Ms Isler, who dreams of her shop becoming a place where “everybody sings around the pianola”.
“But a good book store is about customers and the staff, because both feed off each other.
“The customer comes in wants your feedback, advice and ideas about what's good to read, but we also listen to our customers.
“Yesterday we had some mothers come in and sit with their kids and read some books.
“To me it’s all about service and atmosphere.”
The sisters are banking on Thirroul’s growing “destinational” status, its high number of young families and position – far enough from another book shop or, worse, a discount superstore – to see their business survive.
It is not a venture they would have attempted five or ten years ago, said Ms Thompson.
“Of course it’s always going to be taking a gamble, but probably it would have been too much at that stage,” she said.
“Everyone went crazy with their Kindles. But now people like to have paper. A lot of people work with a screen all day and want to come home and not have that.
“I think the book industry has settled.
“Also, a large part of the demographic here is young families, and people want their kids to read books, for every part of their development.”
This evening's view to lovely Thirroul made lovelier bc nestled in there is a new business that's not another estate agent or coffee shop, but an honest-to-goodness bookshop! And I overcame my shyness to go in and thank the owner (might have twirled w excitement). pic.twitter.com/bQju8MOXBh— Susan McCreery (@SusanMcCreery2) November 10, 2018
Shelves at the store are not yet fully stocked, but the sisters say they have been “swamped” with paying customers since their soft opening on Wednesday.
Shelves at the store are not yet fully stocked, but the sisters say they have been “swamped” with buying customers since their soft opening on Wednesday.
“People just coming in saying, ‘thankyou so much for opening a book store’,” said Ms Isler, who has 12 years’ industry experience, including time at the helm of Berkelouw Books Eumundi, in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, and as manager of the Hill of Content Bookshop in Balmain. “Bookshops get so much loyalty – already we’ve seen that,” she said.
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Ms Thompson has divided her time in recent years between Australia and Myanmar, where she works in a monastery as an English language teacher for six months of the year.
Ms Isler also regularly travels to Switzerland, which is home to her immediate family.
The sisters intend to take turns travelling and manning the shop at Thirroul.