Three Monkeys - Ten Minutes #4

A while back, I wrote a piece on where I buy books. In particular I concentrated on new books with a note at the end of the article that secondhand book sources might be the subject of a later work - this is that work. What I propose to do is to give you a quick trip around the secondhand bookshops that I frequent. The Wellington region is blessed with a large number of such shops and it is not possible for me to detail them all. In fact, I do not even intend to list all the ones that I know of in the central city, rather it is my personal journey around the stores that have served me well over the years. These shops are important to me as a keen reader as not only do they allow me to buy books at lower prices, but they also are a source of titles which are long since out of print and therefore no longer stocked on the physical or electronic shelves of those stores only selling new books.

From mid '94 to mid '96 I worked at Datacom on Abel Smith street, just along from the intersection with Cuba street. Most days I would use my lunch break to take a walk down Cuba street. Each day I would pick one of the secondhand shops as a target. There were enough of these shops that I could pick a different one for every day of the week. Since I moved workplace, I have still made a point to take a walk down Cuba street on a regular basis as it is very much the home of the secondhand bookshop in Wellington.

Starting from the top (south) end of Cuba street, the first shop on the way is Nathaniel's Books which is situated between Vivian and Ghuznee streets. It is a funny shop with an atmosphere like one of those magic curio shops that were popular in children's horror fiction many years ago. I think the narrow entrance way and the cramped nature of the shelves gives me this impression. For example, the main SF section is so close to the next bookcase, that it is almost impossible to see the books at the bottom of the shelves. Despite this and the "new age" specialty nature of the shop, the SF section (labeled "sci-fi") is actually pretty good and the prices are among the cheapest around. If you do go in, have a good look around as the internal organisation of the shop is quite eccentric. At one stage, there were three distinct sections all of which were dedicated to SF titles.

The next stopoff down the street, in the same block, is Bizy Bees. This shop has a large SF selection with a good turnover of titles. This is not surprising as the store manager, Matthew, is a keen SF reader who has had a significant involvement with local fandom. If you need advice on authors or specific titles then ask Matthew. He is very knowledgeable about what he has in stock and what is available generally. If I only have time to visit one store on a visit to Cuba street then this is the one. Note that Bizy Bees is open late on Saturday nights which makes a visit to it on the way to a cinema or restaurant a viable option.

The next block down on Cuba street, between Ghuznee and Dixon streets is part of the mall. Here you will find the Ferret bookshop. This shop does not have such a large SF section as the previous two and is probably only worth a visit for the sake of completeness or if you are looking for something a bit out of the ordinary as that seems to be their specialty.

A few doors down the mall, you come to Bellamys. When I first moved to Wellington, this shop was a great hunting ground for me where I would often find something worth buying. Over time, their SF section has become a bit stale with a steady accumulation of lower quality items and not much of real interest. However, as I write this, the operation is being moved to a new location across the street from their old one (so close in fact that their street address only changes by one digit from 106 to 105). A change of location often serves to revitalise a bookstore, so I await their re-opening with interest.

The final stop on the trip down Cuba street is at the Book Mark. This shop is just below the mall proper - opposite the entrance to the James Smith food court. This shop has a large SF section with easily the largest range of new condition recent titles. If you are looking for second hand copies of books which are still on the new shelves, then this is the place to go. Do not ask me where he gets so many new titles. The only drawback of all these recent titles is that this place is the most expensive of any of the secondhand places around.

There used to be another secondhand bookshop on Cuba street. The Big Bad Bookshop was large and very disorganised with bargains to be found if you were prepared to spend the time looking through all the piles on the floor and in various boxes. The business is now to be found in a small arcade which runs between Willis and Victoria streets, just up from the BNZ centre.

Moving away from Cuba street and heading down to the Embassy end of Courtenay Place there is another shop worth visiting whenever I get down that end of town. Artee Bees is a sister shop to Bizy Bees - they have the same owner (whose initials incidentally are RTB), and a similar range of books except that the Courtenay Place store is a bit smaller.

In mid '96 Datacom moved premises down to the other end of town - near to the railway station. To my great disappointment, there were no secondhand bookshops there which had a decent SF selection - this end of town is much more inclined towards art galleries. I was relieved when Crossroads Bookshop moved to Seabridge house on Featherston street from their old location on Courtenay place. Of course, the first thing they did once they had set themselves up was to open a (very good) little art gallery. However the bookshop business is still there and has grown significantly since the move. In particular, their SF section is much expanded.

One final point about secondhand bookshops is that you cannot judge them by a single visit. One of the most important aspects of one of these stores is the stock turnover rate. Stores which do not regularly get stock in are going to disappoint over time. The flip side of that is that it is important to visit the best shops regularly as you need to keep checking for new stock. I recommend a regular circuit for best effect.