Kia ora koutou katoa. I’m Julie Fry, co-owner of the Open Book.
I spend most of my time in Brooklyn, New York, or on a family farm in Brooklyn, Motueka. I’m usually in Auckland for less than a week a year.
So why buy a share of a bookstore in Ponsonby?
Last year, I wrote a book, Going Places, with the open book’s other owner, Hayden Glass. We wanted to create space for a constructive conversation about migration to and from New Zealand. Writing the book was hard work, and hugely rewarding, and I learned a lot.
As we were finalising plans for our book tour, which took us from Auckland to London via the Motueka Sprig and Fern and a few other places, this conversation happened:
And a few minutes later:
Beyond the gut reaction, I decided to invest for several reasons.
I love books. I particularly love old books: the way they smell, the way they look, how they feel in your hands.
As a child, I used to camp out in a bedroom in my grandmother’s house that had a built-in book cupboard. I would sit and read heavy green-bound encyclopedias that taught me all the plants that grew in and around English hedgerows, and Gay from China at the Chalet School, and Little Women.
About ten years ago one of my aunts visited and decided to throw out all the books in the cupboard. Something to do with silverfish, apparently.
I can still picture the gold embossed titles on the spines of the encyclopedias, and see the line drawings of pussy willows and elderflowers and old man’s beard.
But still … buying a bookstore? Isn’t that a bit of an over-reaction?
Well, the physical space at 201 Ponsonby Road is glorious. Seven rooms of books, and a huge sunny garden out back.
The first time I saw it – via a slightly wonky 3 minute video walk through filmed on a phone – I made an involuntary happy noise and my daughter stuck her head around the door and asked me if I was okay.
In real life, it feels like a giant version of Grandma’s book cupboard. Without the hideous mustard-coloured shag carpet and the silverfish. Especially now the enormous salmon counter of doom has gone.
Still, as a well-meaning friend with knowledge of the economics of physical bookstores commented, “Seriously? You could just visit.”
Yes. I could. And clearly the financial rewards from this investment will be modest at best. But as an owner, I get to enjoy all the things about the open book that make my heart sing, and I also get to play a part in the transformation of the business.
In reality, because geography matters more for selling books than it does for writing them, Hayden has done most of the work so far with help from a cast of fabulous people who are closer to Ponsonby than I am. But the technology is pretty awesome so I can tell what is going on from afar, and I get to spend a couple of days in-store next month (February 6-8).
Come by and say hello if you’re in the neighbourhood.