Who’s the best

Townsville Bulletin - - Investor - by Tony Rag­gatt tony. rag­gatt@ townsville­bul­letin. com. au

IT’S of­fi­cial. Townsville has one of Aus­tralia’s best book shops and it has sur­vived through thick and thin, rain and jack­ham­mers.

The Mary Who? Book­shop, sit­u­ated at the west­ern end of the old Flin­ders mall, which is now be­ing dug up to make way for a road, was pre­sented with the Re­gional Book­shop of the Year award at the an­nual con­fer­ence of i n d e p e n d e n t b o o k s t o r e group Lead­ing Edge Books.

The group rep­re­sents about 180 in­de­pen­dent book stores through­out Aus­tralia.

Co-own­ers Sue Cole Kerry McIl­roy proudly and dis- play the award in the store.

They also ad­mit that times have been tough for re­tail busi­nesses, for book shops and for busi­nesses op­er­at­ing in Townsville’s city heart where trade has been dis­rupted by the $ 56 mil­lion Flin­ders St rede­vel­op­ment and the clo­sure of re­tail s p a c e , p a r t i c u l a r l y t h e L a n c i n i - Aus t e x x g r o u p ’ s Flin­ders Plaza hold­ings.

‘‘ We are for­tu­nate to have such loyal cus­tomers,’’ Ms Cole said. ‘ ‘ Peo­ple come specif­i­cally to us and ne­go­ti­ate around the ob­sta­cles.’’

Mary Who? Book­shop was recog­nised by its peers for pro­mot­ing books in the com­mu­nity.

Ms Cole can be heard reg­u­larly on ABC Ra­dio in the Tues­day Book Club pro­gram, while Ms McIl­roy keeps clients and con­tacts in Towns- ville and fur­ther afield up­dated on events through the shop’s Face­book site and through Twit­ter mes­sages.

To over­come the im­pact of Cy­clone Yasi, in­clud­ing 10 days with­out power, they gained the sup­port of pub­lish­ers to of­fer a free book with ev­ery book sale.

‘‘ I think the pub­lish­ers re­alised we had been through a rough time,’’ Ms McIl­roy said. ‘‘ We ended up with 350 books to give away.’’

The shop also works with J a me s C o o k U n i v e r s i t y alumni, sourc­ing au­thors in­clud­ing David Suzuki, John Howard, Jef­frey Archer and Karl Kruszel­nicki, to speak at events at the univer­sity.

Ms Cole said the re­cent open­ing of some of the Flin­ders Plaza prop­er­ties, op­po­site their store, as shops for artists and com­mu­nity groups as part of the Re­new Townsville ini­tia­tive was help­ing cre­ate more ac­tiv­ity.

How­ever the clo­sure of the shops three years ago and their dis­re­pair and smell re­mained a concern, she said.

It had con­trib­uted to a drop in pedes­trian traf­fic and monthly tak­ings at the book­shop fall­ing up to 25 per cent.

‘‘ Townsville is loyal to us and peo­ple come in but those who don’t know us and don’t come in, we miss them,’’ Ms Cole said.

Ms McIl­roy said they con­cen­trated on the busi­ness and made the most of what they had con­trol over.

While it has been de­layed, they are work­ing with pub­lish­ers on moves to sell onl i n e . T h e f i r s t e - b o o k s , through Mary Who? Book­shop, are ex­pected to be avail­able early next year.

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