What’s more perfect then finding a book or books you want to read and starting them before you even leave the store? To sit at a cafe with a book is the ideal environment for us book lovers out there.
For this week’s bookspot we are going all the way down under to Australia. We spoke to Jane Turner of Gertrude and Alice Cafe, located on 46 Hall Street, Bondi Beach NSW 2026 Australia.
How did your bookstore transition from concept to reality?
In 2000, Katerina Cosgrove (co-founder) and I decided we wanted to open a cafe bookstore. It took 12 months of planning. We spent every waking hour when we weren’t working scouting possible shop locations and stockpiling 45,000 second hand books to open with. We trawled local markets, charity shops, auctions and garage sales. We lived with 100’s of boxes of books, beautiful but odd sets of china tea cups and mismatched tables & chairs that were stacked to the ceilings in our homes until we finally found our shop in Hall Street, and we opened in 2001. We are fast approaching our 20 year milestone.
What do you feel is unique to your bookstore?
It truly is one of a kind. People say that our shop is like their lounge room at home but without the clothes thrown everywhere! Most other shops that have added a cafe to their business model run them as a separate entity. Our cafe bookstore is run by us. As we have been around for 20 years, many of our customers have been with us since the very beginning. We have seen babies go through school, finish their schooling and work part time for us while they complete their studies. Ella, who works for us full time now used to visit in a pram with her Mum Jo who is one of our biggest readers.
I love the sense of community that we have created. It would have to be the one thing that I’m most proud of.
If you had infinite space, what might you add to the store?
It’s a very long list that keeps getting longer! We actually have a DA (development application) to put in a staircase and extend into the unit above us. We would love to have a bigger space to hold events, book clubs, expand our children’s section and host reading afternoons for little ones. We would love a specialist antiquarian room with big leather reading chairs and my greatest wish is to have a writer-in-residence space under the big window where we could invite people to not only be inspired to write, but be available for a short time each day to chat to other aspiring writers. It could also be an artist in residence space as well. There never seems to be enough money to get it off the ground – but I’m not giving up on my dream just yet. I believe that one day it will happen.
How do you feel your bookstore fits into your local community?
We have always called ourselves “a community cafe”. Part of our logo says “for the people” and so we live and breathe this mantra. We would be nothing without the support of our community each and every day and our entire team is aware of this. We get involved in local projects whenever we can, support schools and work on fundraisers with other local businesses . I honestly believe that we wouldn’t have been as fortunate as we have been to be in business for 20 years had we not become part of the community. My family grew up here at Bondi so it means everything to us.
What does your store offer that a chain or online retailer can’t?
Totally personalised and individualised service. We know your coffee, we know your name, we know what books you like to read. We know when you need a hug or a shoulder to cry on. We know when you need 5 m minutes to sit and recharge in our cosy chairs and get ready to go out and face the world again. We hold newborn babies so you can finish your breakfast.
We have seen people that had never read a book in their life become voracious readers. As a family-owned business we are service driven and therefore our care factor is huge. We have been on the other end of the line when dealing with a chain or online businesses and believe that what we offer is everything that they don’t.
Our customer Michelle wrote this to me recently “It means so much to have some place to go where the staff know your name, your order, a book you might like to read, to have a communal table where people come together and make a community out of strangers. It’s food for the soul. I don’t care if I can save $5 buying it online -what you do here is priceless.” How amazing is that to have someone write something like that about what you created! A community out of strangers…wow!
Do you hand-pick your staff to create a specific environment?
We do. You have to be an all-rounder as working in a small team means you become multi-skilled. You have to be able to get in and do what needs to be done. Even though we work in hospitality, we don’t really have a high turnover of staff. We become like family even though it has aspects of a highly dysfunctional family at times! It helps if you read a lot.
What about your store do you think appeals to your neighborhood?
It has a sense of belonging. Of place and of connection. It’s warm and cosy and welcoming. We try our best to ensure that we provide a service that keeps you coming back again and again.