Booksellers unite in new chapter to halt city exodus

Booksellers unite in new chapter to halt city exodus

By Brendan Rees

For Jaye Chin-Dusting, the owner of Mary Martin Bookshop in Southbank, finding creative ways to attract customers has been no easy feat amid repeated lockdowns.  

But she’s hoping this trend will be reversed when a new initiative called Melbourne City Reads which has been organised by eight bookshops will bring back readers of all kinds through their doors.  

The book shops – Dymocks Collins Street, Hill of Content, Mary Martin Southbank and Queen Victoria Market, North Melbourne Books, The Paperback Bookshop, Readings Carlton, and Readings State Library – will showcase a different book each month with a 25 per cent discount on the cover price.

This first title to be offered will be Small Joys of Real Life, the first novel by Allee Richards, which follows its protagonist, Eva, in her 20s, as she deals with the death of her lover, an unexpected pregnancy, a career crisis, and the joys and challenges of daily life in Melbourne’s inner north.

Richards will also discuss her novel at a free event at the Wheeler Centre on September 8 as part of this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival.

Other authors to be featured in the initiative, which will run from August to November, include Miles Allinson, Emily Bitto, and Maxine Beneba Clarke.

Bookseller Mark Rubbo of Readings said by banding together bookshops hoped to encourage the city’s passionate readers to buy books while celebrating a literary culture he believes to be “one of the richest in the world”.

He said lockdowns and depopulation of city offices have had a “terrible impact” on booksellers in the city.

“Our shop in the State Library is 60 per cent down on its pre-COVID levels, [and] our Carlton shop 12 to 20 per cent down,” he said.

The July lockdown was also devastating for Ms Chin-Dusting who conceded “short lockdowns are the worst for trade”.

“We always see a huge dive anyway but we see an almost zero click and collect because most people wait,” she said.

But in a boost, she said she was grateful for the community’s support when she saw sales go up during the school holidays between lockdowns four and five.

Ms Chin-Dusting said Melbourne City Reads would provide a much-needed boost for book shops and had “high hopes it will be a permanent fixture in the literary calendar for Melbourne”.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said Melbourne’s bookshops “offer endless entertainment and knowledge while shining a light on Melburnian writers and stories set in our marvellous city”.

“We’re proud to support the Melbourne City Reads initiative to bring back the buzz – and encourage everyone to celebrate their inner bookworm.” •

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