When Travis Brown and Benita Bunting returned from an overseas trip three years ago to find a rental increase notice amongst a pile of mail, the obvious course of action – to their minds at least – was to refuse it and open their own bookshop.
Brown had been working as a second hand book buyer (or a 'runner') since he was 19 and Bunting had worked managing her share of new bookstores. "It was always the plan," say Brown. "We just weren't sure exactly when." The couple had been stockpiling for some time, with a whole room in their North Melbourne terrace taken up with boxes and boxes of books. "We knew that to open a store we'd need a lot of stock, and good stock."
So with a bunch of help from Brown’s dad with the fit-out and some scouring of rental websites to locate their new premises on High Street, Northcote, within months they were opening the doors to their own store.
The concept was to have a used bookstore with that resembled a new bookshop. The impressive fit-out courtesy of Brown senior means that while the store is lined with shelves packed to the brim with books, Brown & Bunting is nothing like the dusty old second-hand bookstores you’re used to. Instead, the sections are meticulously organised, the books are cleaned with eucalyptus oil (making the whole store smell delicious) and there's not a spot of dust to be found anywhere. Everything you love about second hand bookstores, without everything you don't.
The couple are well aware of their online competition, but don't seem to let it bother them. "We run our business like The Book Depository are next door; we'd be kidding ourselves if we didn't.” A quick glance around the shelves reveals that Brown & Bunting's stock is priced as cheaply, if not better than their online competitors. It certainly makes it difficult to leave empty-handed. The nature of the business means that their stock is always changing based around what Brown comes across, but their aim is to make sure that there's always something new on the shelves, even if a customer comes in twice a week.
Three years since opening, things are going swimmingly. The store has expanded, with the floating back wall continuing to creep back to accommodate the burgeoning selection. The desire for books, it would seem, is as strong as ever.
Some things have changed. Now that people know they exist, Brown finds himself making house calls more often. "We treat people well and pay fairly. In turn people then recommend us, and it works out well for everyone.”
What's their secret? "Without wanting to sound cheesy, we just love what we do. We love selling books, we love buying books, we love talking about books. I don't know how you could do it if you didn't. And I think there's a lot of people like us who just aren't going to get it from e-readers and staring at a computer screen.”
Are they going to put in a cafe? "Not a chance."
Brown & Bunting Booksellers
237 High St, Northcote
(03) 9481 3388
Sun to Thu 11am-6pm