A Guide to Indie Bookshops around Australia
The importance of bookshops as key social centres and sources of cultural and intellectual engagement has long been recognized and is now reiterated by many. ‘Support your local bookshop’ has become the mantra of many communities and readers alike and community and neighbourhood associations are also galvanizing support for independent booksellers by creating more local literary festivals and reading events in libraries and other public spaces.
While in 2016 physical book sales decreased in Australia and many independent booksellers have closed or downsized in the last few years, other devoted booksellers remain passionate and committed to their local communities. The Australian Booksellers Association (ABA) initiated a National Bookshop Day a few years ago that takes place in August and works hard to support local initiatives.
Here is a roundup of some of the best independent bookshops around Australia:
In Sydney, a local favourite is the Potts Point Bookshop. The owner, Anna Low, curates an excellent range of titles aimed her local clients. Guest authors, some of whom live in this upmarket area, give regular evening talks.
Gleebooks Books is a literary institution. Located in Glebe, close to Sydney University and the inner western suburbs of the city, it caters to locals but also visitors from near and far. Nearby is Florilegium, part of the Sydney Museums, that specializes in gardening, nature writing and landscape design books, making it a tempting store to linger and browse in.
In downtown Sydney, Abbey's bookshop is much loved. Other mainstay bookstores in Sydney’s eastern suburbs that are thriving are Berkelouw, well-known for its cosy upstairs café, Lesley McKay and Oscar and Friends.
Canberra is a rapidly changing city with many trendy new cafés and shops moving into previously sleepy neighbourhoods. Muse, located in the burgeoning suburb of Kingston, is a new ’culinary literary’ concept; more of a restaurant with books in it. In the Manuka area, Paperchain Books claims to be the oldest independent bookseller in Canberra, and offers a wide range of titles and in-store talks.
Travelling to other cities around Australia, we find the Avid Reader book shop in Brisbane, another work of passion and commitment by its owner. Locals know they can find an inspiring title in a great atmosphere to boot. Little Gnome specializes in self-published books, perhaps a unique offering among bookstores worldwide. Folio Books is the go-to bookstore downtown and also one that has created a wonderful in-store experience with an extensive array of books on all different topics. Where the Wild Things Are has to be the most aptly named children’s bookstore. It also organizes book clubs and regular reading events for young readers.
Matilda Bookshop is just outside Adelaide in the Hills area. Matilda's has managed to create a cosy atmosphere and works with locals to ensure their tastes are met. Another example of an indie owned by book lovers is Imprints Booksellers. Imprints is a much-loved social institution and a classical old-fashioned bookstore that has been a part of Adelaide's downtown history for many years. It's a wonderful place to browse in when you're wandering through the city.
In the never-ending rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, Melbourne wins hands down for having many more independent booksellers. In particular, Metropolis is very accessible for those working in the city center and it's popular with commuters on their way to Flinders Street Station. Particular mention goes to their selection of books on architecture, design and art.
The independent retailer, Readings, in St Kilda (close to the beach suburb of Melbourne) is the workplace of author A. S. Patrić, who won a major literary award in Australia last year with his book Black Rock White City. He offers his current title tips when you visit the shop. Another well-known bookseller in downtown Melbourne is Embiggen Books, located next to the State Library, with a strong focus on popular science and philosophy but it has an excellent range of other titles as well; it also hosts interesting events.
Closer to the Queen Victoria Market Building, not far from the State Library is Books for Cooks. It has great titles on food, wine and the culinary arts that are all so tempting. The shop also holds events and talks with chefs and authors.
The Paperback Bookshop stocks an extensive selection of new release and backlist titles and are unusual in that they stock a large amount of paperbacks at reasonable prices. Of course, good coffee is part of any experience in Melbourne and this shop has a Pellegrini's café right next door.
In the suburbs of Perth, Beaufort Street Books is a bookseller that plays an integral part of a main local shopping street offering a wonderful small bookshop atmosphere. The Lane Bookshop in another suburb of Perth offers a wide range of books by local and international authors.
Victoria, Coober Pedy and Braidwood
Outside the major Australian cities there are few shops worth noting such as Antipodes bookshop, which is also a gallery, in Sorrento, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria. Underground Bookstore in Coober Pedy (located in a town which operates underground due to the extreme heat) is located somewhere between Adelaide and Alice Springs and a frequent stop for road travellers. Also Miss Ruby's in Braidwood, not far from Canberra, is a well known destination for book browsers and collectors.
Hobart and Darwin
Depending on what you think of as the ‘center’ of Australia, outlier towns such as Hobart and Darwin are often on a tourist’s itinerary. Hobart Bookshop is a great place in the busy Salamanca Market with friendly staff on hand and many books on local history. The Book Shop in Darwin also focusses on Territory and Australiana books, including Aboriginal history, culture and art.
Australian independent booksellers soldier on to offer their communities a unique and personal experience. Hopefully, they can maintain a vital presence, giving locals a point of connection and cultural engagement.