Pages running out in Ron’s story

Bookshop owner Ron Robertson… “I haven’t had a holiday in seven years. I only take public holidays off.” Photo by Danielle Nohra

THE owner of Ron’s Book Shop, Ron Robertson, stands almost hidden amongst thousands of stories with piles of books around the shop, forcing customers to squeeze in and out of aisles.

But with the rise of internet shopping and ebooks, there are fewer customers scouting for a good read these days, which means Ron’s own story may have an unhappy ending.

But it won’t be for the want of trying as the falling custom over recent years has forced the 70-year-old to tip into his superannuation from time to time to get by.

Ron’s not sure why fewer people are buying his books, but according to a paper written by the Australian Booksellers Association in response to a draft report on competition and policy, there is massive competition coming from Amazon and the Book Depository.

The 2014 response says these global online retailers often price books in an anti-competitive manner and usually offer free postage. Books are frequently sold at less than the Australian wholesale price.

Ron sells his books for half the price of a new book, plus a dollar. But even those costs are threatened by cheaper online prices.

Another issue, the association points out, is the high retail rents in Australia and how they seem to be affecting many bricks-and-mortar bookstores such as Ron’s.

“I don’t think I’ve made a wage in five years,” Ron says. “And I haven’t had a holiday in seven years. I only take public holidays off.”

Ron’s worked in book sales all his life and, before owning his shop, he worked for the Australian Government Publishing Service.

“I sold books for the government, they trained me to be a bookseller,” Ron says.

“I retired at 47 and my wife was working for a little bookshop at the time so I worked a little there, too.”

In 1998, Ron and his wife Helen first opened Ron’s Book Shop in Jamison and then seven years ago moved the store to Hawker. After Helen passed away in 2014, Ron had to look after the store on his own, receiving a few hours of help a week from a friend.

Ron’s focus isn’t to make a lot of money, he just wants enough to pay the bills and continue to help the community.

“Seven years ago Hawker Primary School came to me to help them with books for the school fete,” Ron says.

“I went through all the books and priced them and got rid of the junk.

“Since then I’ve been supplying them with hundreds and hundreds of books.”

Ron says he donates books, helps with labelling, pricing and sorting, and then he buys them back during the school fete and sells them in his store.

“I have a rule. If people bring books in for me I don’t sell them, I donate them. It’d be like selling a present if I did,” Ron says.

Ron also donates books to the Buk bilong Pikinini (BbP) an independent charity that aims to foster a life-long love of learning, increase literacy rates and empower vulnerable children through the establishment of children’s libraries and the delivery of literacy programs in target communities across Papua New Guinea.

Helping the community and forming relationships is one of the main reasons Ron wants to keep his bookshop going.

“If I get a certain book in I’ll think: ‘I know who would love that and put it aside’,” Ron says.  

Ron’s Book Shop. 3/72-74 Hawker Place, Hawker. Call 6254 1448.

 

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