Extraordinary scenes in the city yesterday, in the old Georges shop on Collins Street. The crush was in the hundreds, quite possible a thousand people, jovially pushing themselves among shelves, swigging wine, and astonishingly — queueing with abandon, in the flesh, each toting several actual object-books to the cashier. And by queue: it went half the length of the shop, which traverses the building from Collins to Lt Collins.
Miracle? In this era of economic fogginess, at this transitional moment of reading and book-buying technology — a new, major bookshop opening in the city run a profoundly experienced owner? Miracle.
This was the scene at the resurrection of Reader’s Feast — you’ll recall that RF v.1 had operated in the basement on the corner of Bourke and Swanston since 1991, but was forced into closing by the REDgroup collapse earlier this year. Mary Dalmau, co-owner and manager of this new business, said in July: ‘My focus now is to leave this particular business with dignity and professionalism. But we’re not going away from bookselling.’ And so it came to pass. Every customer was greeted at the door of the new premises, up those twin half-flights of steps, by Dalmau, resplendent in royal blue.
Dalmau’s comeback speech struck a note of hope, looking back not in anger but relief. (Dalmau, above, centre.) In the old shop, we had sixteen floods in 20 years, so the first thing was that the new shop not be in the basement. The crowd was obviously pleased for her, and entirely approvoing of the venture. On the night at least, they were voting with their Privileged Reader and credit cards.
The new shop is a family affair; her sister is a partner, the fittings were designed and installed by her brother and nephew. Dalmau joked that she knew of e-readers, I’ve seen them. But to the mostly middle-aged crowd, reassuringly, I know we can have a dual experience. She finished with her credo: We are here because we believe in books, and we believe Melbourne is book city.
Perhaps joyful crowds will mill around right up to Christmas, and then beyond. I want her to be right.