THOSE who love the fabulous smell as you walk in the door of Wisemans Books at Richmond, had better scoot in and take some deep breaths before it’s too late.
That yellow-framed glass door, stained black around the handle likely by people who read newspapers with ink on their hands, will be shut by Steve and Roseanne Bowerman for the last time on October 14.
“How dare you! What am I going to do now?” regular customer Mrs Manea said to Steve when she found out.
Steve said he and Roseanne bought it in 2000 as a sea change from their jobs as a software engineer (him) and HR (her).
Previous owners Sue and Derek told them they had named it Wisemans after where they lived. “They started the business in Windsor about 1993 and moved to Richmond after a year,” Steve said. “It used to be half this size and we took over the shop next to it.”
Wanting to retire, they’ve had it on the market for four months but have had no takers so are simply closing it down. He said it was also a case of “retail not doing well, full stop”. “People have had less money to spend on what you could regard as a luxury over the last three or four years, like books or movies.”
He’s loved the intergenerational aspect of bookselling. “Someone came in the other day and said ‘my mum used to buy my schoolbooks here and now I’m buying my kid’s schoolbooks here’,” Steve said. He said most schools now buy their textbooks online so the closure wasn’t a big issue for parents.
Over their 17 years the biggest sellers are – no surprises – the Harry Potter books.
“We weren’t here for their first three, but we were for Goblet of Fire in July, 2000. We had queues outside for the 9.01am opening with people dressed up as characters. The next couple of Harry Potters though there wasn’t the same excitement. But it was one of those books that spread by word of mouth.”
For kids, he said the Andy Griffiths books like The Day my Bum went Psycho were standouts, along with the Treehouse series and Anh Do’s graphic Weirdo books, great for luring boys into reading, and Terry Denton’s books and Aaron Blabey’s Pig the Pug.
Dogs that sold
“Ones that have sold really well that I hated were The Da Vinci Code and Fifty Shades of Grey – especially Fifty Shades, it needed editing so badly! It fell off a cliff though when the movie came out. There wasn’t as much demand for the sequels. It was all hype. There are so many other books in that genre which are so much better.”
Like what? “Those written by Sylvia Day – erotica.”
The Twilight series was another that scored a Bowerman grimace. “The first one was good, but….There definitely was a trend, vampires were cool, especially when linked with romance.”
What about books that should have done better? “One of my favourites was The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. But some books don’t make a big splash, just consistently tick over year after year after year – such as Jane Austen’s, or Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird or The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings or Mem Fox’s books. People read them at school then come back later and say ‘I’ve got to read that book again’.”
He said the scariest book he’d ever read was Stephen King’s It and close behind, The Shining.
And which sells better – fiction or non-fiction? “Probably non-fiction – histories and biographies and real world.” He agreed that men seem to read more non-fiction but he wondered if it was by choice. “Women buy men non-fiction!” he said.
With books available so easily on technology, what’s the attraction of books now? “They’re tactile, you can take them anywhere and not need anything else. And with phones or tablets there’s always the distraction [of notifications etc].”
He doesn’t think bookshops are doomed. “People still like to browse.”
When the Gazette was in the shop last Friday, Kurrajong author Minnie Biggs was in there, and knew it was closing. “It’s a dagger in my heart!” she said, leaning on the shelf melodramatically. “I can’t think of anything worse – I’m wallowing in grief.” She said she loved its thrill of the unknown, “the excitement of stumbling on something unexpected”.
- Check out this week’s Hawkesbury Gazette podcast where, among other things, we reminisce on some of our favourite childhood reading memories.