Whanganui success story Paige’s Book Gallery is happily defying global trends that have taken their toll on many independent bookstores around New Zealand. It’s also doing business in the Middle East with a growing publishing arm based in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi.
Proprietor Lesley Stead says the corner store, in a leased heritage building in the city’s Guyton St creative precinct, attracts a steady stream of loyal local customers wanting to unwind with a free cuppa while they browse in the colourful and cosy surrounds.
Out of towners, including a growing number who have bought holiday retreats in Whanganui, and international visitors also beat a path to Paige’s. They sing the praises of store and staff, and the sandwich board on the pavement sometimes features the frequent comment that it’s ‘the best little book store in the world’.
Lesley says the family retailing, publishing and distributing project, which operates as Stead & Daughters, has been a 10-year labour of love in partnership mainly with her publisher daughter Renée, who is building a bilingual educational publishing business from her UAE base. It ties in with a strong campaign by the government there to increase child literacy.
But Lesley is adamant that the secret to the business’s growing success is their home town, with its unique mix of lower overheads, relaxed lifestyle, great infrastructure, and loyal and supportive clients who consider themselves friends of Paige’s. Manager Roch Handley has been a key part of the business for most of its life and there’s no shortage of other book lovers to call on.
The business started with desire to be involved in publishing and Lesley combined relief teaching with a corporate gift-book service. Run from the family home five minutes drive from the CBD, selected and shipped books to meet the special interests of business clients.
As the family became squeezed out by boxes of books, they found premises in Guyton St and opened a small street front retail store while running a bulk distribution business serving schools and other clients from the back room. Retail expansion followed and an eclectic arrangement of books for all ages and tastes soon filled the spacious corner premises, which Lesley says boasts the city’s oldest heritage-rated shop windows.
Children’s titles are a magnet for youngsters, their parents and grandparents. Granddaughter Paige, for whom the store is named, is a frequent visitor. Lesley says customers who love to talk books provide great market research for the publishing and distribution arms of the business.
Lesley acknowledges the giant global online booksellers have an unfair advantage, and Stead & Daughters supports the Booksellers NZ and Retail NZ #eFairnessNZ campaign to encourage parliament to close the existing GST loophole which allows some low value goods to be imported free of GST and duty.
As for the e-book ‘revolution’, Lesley says it hasn’t threatened Paige’s and they’re not afraid that it will. The store sells Kobo e-readers and she’s noticing a turnaround with many readers seeking out ‘the real thing’ as screen-time increasingly dominates their life and leisure.
“I think we’re proving that an iconic business can thrive in Whanganui, especially as increasing numbers of tourists from around New Zealand and overseas discover the district thanks to the marketing campaigns that are attracting so much attention.”