As a school girl I remember that many of our textbooks came from Whitcombe and Tombs, a name I loved because it had alongside it the smell of new books, new beginnings, the start of a new year. Then it was bought by Coulls Sommerville Wilkie and became Whitcoulls which seemed to me a ‘dog’ of a name. It didn’t have the same solid ring to it that W&T had. Never mind it did publish New Zealand books. In more recent times it has been taken over by the conglomerate Redgroup which picked up Borders and Angus and Robertson on the way. There was still a publishing arm but it now only looked at books by rugby and cricket players, or cookbooks, or perhaps something with the title ‘My trip in a campervan’. Literature had gone long ago.
Why did the bookshop that had been in business for 125 years finally fall on its knees? Easy. It stopped being a bookshop. Those who bought out those three bookshops didn’t care about books. They didn’t care if their customers were looked after in their search for books. All that mattered was ‘the bottom line’.
A couple of years ago I was in Borders in Queen Street Auckland and I asked a young assistant about a book on Ernest Rutherford. She looked at me a bit puzzled and then said: “What has he written lately?”
I didn’t blame her for not knowing about a famous New Zealander but it underlined the fact that no one did any book training with the staff. No one cared about books enough to make sure that when books were sold they were done with love and knowledge. So I stopped shopping at those bookshops and went to independent book retailers who really do know their stuff.
One year I was part of a group who before Christmas read stories at Whitcoulls and Borders in Queen Street. We dressed up in Christmas attire and (for free) read stories while the parents shopped. The idea was that it would be New Zealand authors we would read. We were hard pressed to find New Zealand children’s authors in stock in those stores.
So the reason for the demise is that no one cared about the product. It is a sad day to see a bookshop close and sadder for those who have lost their jobs but it was going to happen and the surprise is that it took as long as it did. Thank goodness the book shops run by keen individuals are still, according to Booksellers statistics, doing well.