Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book trade character Murray Gray of Gone West bids farewell............

A fable for the village-

'The story starts just over 100 kilometres north of Toronto in the village of Creemore, Ont., also known as the quaint little place my mother now lives. It’s tiny but she loves it, and for good reason too. Creemore, unlike many little towns of its size, has a famous microbrewery, a local/organic food shop, two great cafés, an old-fashioned newspaper and a very good bookstore called Curiosity House Books & Art Gallery. It also has a disproportionately large population of relatively affluent, educated professionals who have retired there, and because of this, when the owners of Curiosity House announced last year they were closing shop because their building was being sold, the town rose up and tried to stop it. A group of book-loving locals wrote articles in the local newspaper, held feverish meetings and made calls to rich friends asking for money. When the money materialized but the collective investment model proved too complicated, Ralph Hicks, a local sculptor and businessman, swooped in and bought the place on a whim.'

I pulled this off a blog and posted it on my web page and Facebook in January. Since then I have reached the decision to close Gone West as I can no longer afford to cover the loses and no local investor has swooped in.
After 10 years and having the survived the global economic meltdown, the advent of ebooks and associated media innovations, it has become obvious to me that this model: a retail shop with a wide internet presence does not work in Titirangi. The retail shop gave people a place to inquire about books they wanted or to explore some new titles but it also created the customer orders that gave the shop it's reputation. It has always been an elegant space to waste some time and have a chat and sometimes a malt whisky or two.

I guess nature of the competition was bought home by the local trusts' bottle shop selling the new edition of Untamed Coast for $35.00 as a promotion. It was these local books that I could sell a good number of that kept the shop going for 10 years. I sold hundreds of copies of Waitakere Ranges over 5 years and did well with the Titirangi history but when there are other businesses selling books as a sideline and in competition then it all seem pointless trying keep a retail shop afloat.

I have a small number of regulars who will always try me first for a book, and have done so over the years, but the economics are not conducive to a good nights sleep.

There will be a closing down sale in the near future and all existing orders will be filled. I will continue to trade from home (how many times have you heard that?) as Gone West Slightly Used Books and hope to enhance the super with a few mail-order sales.

So the question remains – what more do we need in this village apart from real estate, gas stations, take-a-ways, cafes and groceries? Our small 'retail precinct' – Fairy Flowers and Art Oasis and Gone West is tucked away out of the sun next to a supermarket and is the domain of the dedicated.
Given the nature of publishing and the growth of ebooks it seems that we are capable of being satisfied with kindles and a public library. I know I will rely even more on our library for my reading and can only assume that will suffice for most readers.

I hope someone else will take up the challenge to keep a literary presence in Titirangi. We still need books and book-people to give our life some perspective, especially when there is a cry for a 'permanent present' and a trend to outsource our personal history to Google and Face-book.
It has been an immensely pleasant 10 years and I am sad to close but needs must! 




Shedman said...

Very sorry to see you go, Murray. Thanks for your support, and all the best to you, Matt Turner

Shedman said...

Sorry to see you move on, Murray. Thanks for your support, and all the very best to you, Matt Turner

Siobhan Harvet said...

What a sad announcement and sad symbol of the times we live in. For so very long Murray's bookshop has been an emblem of and focal point for the vibrant literary community out west. Still, it is good to know that the name will live on through the great New Zealand focused literary festival it augured, siobhan siobhan harvey

Elaine Housby said...

I am so sad to hear this news. I am a Brit who has made several visits to relatives in Wood Bay, and Titirangi has become a sort of model for me of what I would like my town here in the UK to become. My main memory of Murray is arriving at Gone West gasping for breath and dripping with sweat after walking up the hill from Takahe Road on a very hot 2nd January. Despite it being a holiday he was calmly sitting in his lovely shady shop reading the paper. He kindly offered me a chair and a drink, and when I was sufficiently recovered I bought a book. I made a point of going back there to buy another book on my next visit. Happy memories, and my Gone West bookmark will always have a prominent place in my collection of shops' bookmarks - which is sadly increasingly becoming a memorial to deceased shops.

Anonymous said...

Moderation is not a quality obsessives demonstrate; a significant bookseller must be an obsessive. When I lingered in bookshops, an ignorant if curious teenager, my education was immoderated by the likes of John Summers and Norman Oberg. I grew through their enthusiasms: 'You might like this...' Murray belongs to that diminished but brilliant family of bookmen. Each member is an informed eccentric who bridges centuries in a second: 'How about Defoe - and Zamyatin? They're both resting on that chair...'

Thank you, Murray, for knowing better than me.

David Howard