The following is my love letter, on Love Your Bookshop Day, to my favourite bookstore in the world – Better Read Than Dead in Newtown, Sydney, Australia.
It’s a rare thing indeed for me, even as an inveterate people person who connects with just about everyone after 4.5 nanoseconds (likely quicker to be honest), to honestly feel completely at home in any store.
After all, they are usually there to take my money and nothing more; sure, they might be professionally delightful about it but my presence is, invariably, more of a transactional nature than anything else.
But ever since I first stepped through the doors of Better Read Than Dead (BEST. NAME. EVER.) aka BRTD in Newtown (Sydney, Australia for those overseas) ‘lo those many years back, I have felt something altogether different, a sense that this is somewhere I belong, and that yes, while they very much like to sell me books (fortunately I am delighted to buy them so everyone’s happy), they are so ridiculously helpful and nice about it that it’s hard not to be charmed off your feet every time.
Whether I am stepping in to attend one of their many events – they have taken to heart the idea that the best way to combat competition from online book buying options is to create a strong sense of community among customers – or simply to browse the shelves for as long as time permits, there is a sense that I am welcome beyond how many books I plan to buy.
And it doesn’t feel faked, not even in the slightest.
Each and every time I have needed help, whether it’s finding the mysterious upstairs room where some of the book club events are held – it’s through a Narnia-like piece of furniture if you really must know – or trying to find a book I saw with a blue cover (kidding! I always have the title and author; no, really), the team at Better Read Than Dead have gone and above beyond to help me.
The thing is their assistance always comes with astonishingly genuine smiles.
I saw astonishing because in most stores, you get the feeling the smile is a pasted-on construct that is causing the wearer only slightly less pain than colonic irrigation, and that once you’re out of sight, they will revert to don’t-give-a-damn mode.
But in the glass and luminous light-filled surrounds of BTRD, the smiles, and enthusiasm for books, is palpably real, with the willingness to help in any way they can not even remotely manufactured and fulsome in the extreme.
This is not the product of my imagination.
I am, after all, an extrovert, attuned thanks to my personality and a lifetime of socialising in intense environments as a minister’s son, to detecting fake niceness from a million miles away.
Think a shark smelling a factionally small amount of blood in the water but with more smiling and small talk.
That makes asking for help, or simply chatting away as you complete your purchases a real joy, the highlight of an often long day that is crying out for some genuine human interaction.
I get it – my piece must sound like a PR fluff piece on steroids but honestly, going to BTRD feels that wonderful every damn time, a delightful interlude in the middle of all kinds of rushing about that reminds me time and again that it is possible to run a very successful business and still have a lot of fun doing it (and best of all worlds, make your customers feel supremely welcome as you do it).
BTRD feels like a home away from home, and so this Love Your Bookshop Day, I’d encourage you to tell your favourite seller of books that you love them, why you love them and to give them a big old literary hug because what they do matter and none of us would be the same without them.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I have books to gush about with the lovely person behind the counter … and yeah, I might even buy them (SPOILER ALERT: I totally will) …