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New chapter for city bookshops

Business

Adelaide’s bricks and mortar bookshops are reporting strong post-COVID sales from loyal readers, prompting Rundle Mall’s cornerstone bookshop Dymocks to reopen in the Myer Centre after a short hiatus from the CBD.

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Dymocks’ Adelaide store located near the Pulteney Street end of Rundle Mall closed in April following long-time franchisee Mandy Macky’s decision to retire.

The move left Adelaide’s premier shopping mall without a major bookstore, with the now vacant shopfront at 135 Rundle Mall to be replaced by a multi-level Rebel Sport complex in September.

But the much-loved Dymocks store has made a temporary return to a smaller space on level one of the Myer Centre, with the new CBD space now under the management of the national franchise.

Store General Manager Andrew Steadman, who moved over from Dymocks Glenelg to support the relaunch of the brand in the CBD, said the store’s customer base had been vital in ensuring a smooth transition since they opened their doors on May 12.

“We’ve been quite fortunate that we’ve had a very loyal customer base who have all gone out of their way to find out our new location,” he said.

“Myer themselves and the centre have been very good in terms of making sure that we’re as visible as possible to the passing traffic.”

Steadman said the support from the Myer Centre was particularly crucial given Dymocks had moved from “such a large shopfront on the mall” to “somewhere where we’re largely unseen”.

“[We’ve had] some ups and some down, it’s not all been smooth sailing, but I’d say we’d largely be pretty happy so far with the results,” he said.

“It certainly has been tricky even down to just getting stock into the site … we have, I think, used the space the best way we could.”

While serving as a general bookstore, Dymocks in Adelaide has a special focus on fantasy, sci-fi, history, cooking, art and children’s books.

By relocating to the other end of the mall and integrating into a larger retail centre, Steadman says Dymocks has had the opportunity to strengthen its ties with the young adult market.

“Certainly, the young adult readership and the YA market still continues to be extremely strong, and I sort of feel like being down this side of the mall there’s a little bit more of a pull towards us for that demographic,” he said.

Dymocks in Rundle Mall is one of three stores trading under the franchise’s name in Adelaide, with others located on Jetty Road Glenelg and King William Road Unley.

Booklovers return to the CBD despite shift online

Like other sectors of the retail economy, Steadman said booksellers observed a purchasing shift away from the CBD and into the suburbs at the peak of the pandemic last year, but the industry is now slowly watching that trend reverse.

“I think that during the height of the pandemic … the suburban stores saw a massive influx of people who perhaps weren’t going into the CBD to do their office work, they were spending more time with their family out in the suburbs,” Steadman said.

“And we’re starting to see a return to CBD sales.”

Retail figures for April, released by the ABS last week, showed spending on books and newspapers in South Australia increased almost 20 per cent for the month to $8.4 million – the highest monthly total since June last year.

A Deloitte Access Economics report released in May found foot traffic in the Adelaide CBD remained 8.2 per cent below pre-pandemic levels, but consumer expenditure in the city has actually grown 6 per cent compared to January 2019.

The report attributes the foot traffic decline to an increase in remote working arrangements and the closure of domestic and international borders but notes the fall-off had a greater impact on retailers who relied on “incidental” consumer activity in the CBD.

Conversely, retailers who rely on “deliberate” purchases have “continued relatively strongly outside of lockdown periods”, according to the report, with “retailers noting a shift in behaviour towards click-and-collect purchasing and consumers having planned purchases ahead of physically attending outlets”.

Among the bookstores to fall into this category is Imprints on Hindley Street, which has been trading in the West End since 1984.

Co-owner Jason Lake said his business had recorded an “unexpected” sales increase last year which is “holding steady” into 2021.

He credited the surprise growth to people having more time to read, a strengthening of Imprints’ online presence and a “big awareness shift” among consumers towards supporting local business.

“I think [last year] allowed us to strengthen our bonds with our current lot of customers,” Lake said.

“Although they weren’t walking through the door, we were spending a lot of time on the phone with them and communicating via email.

“We were doing home deliveries, people really appreciated just seeing another human being at the end of the day.”

He added that while online sales were “vital” to the store’s success in 2020, its usage has “slowed down considerably” this year with booklovers favouring in-store purchases.

“There’s nothing like walking into a space and browsing, and people have returned to that … it’s a pleasure to have the majority of them back,” Lake said.

The Deloitte capital city report noted that while online sales in Australia jumped 44 per cent in the year to February 2021, these trends have been “exaggerated” by the pandemic and “may moderate as consumers’ access to physical storefronts improves”.

“However, these shifts in consumer behaviour in terms of how they make and execute their purchases will continue drift towards e-commerce,” the report states.

“Though this may not necessarily come at the expense of in-store retailing.”

Just around the corner from Imprints, O’Connell’s Bookshop at Station Arcade – the oldest store of its kind in South Australia – has welcomed most of its regular customers back through its doors, according to third-generation owner Ben O’Connell.

He says the antiquarian and second-hand bookshop has been “back to normal, if not busier” since April last year and has benefited from people having more time and disposable income on their hands as well as an increase in online business.

“We’ve focused on online, but especially in the period when the lockdowns were on and I was still dealing with lots of my customers [by] answering email and phone orders and posting around Australia and the world,” O’Connell said.

“I did a lot of delivering to my regular customers as well around the city, which was interesting.”

O’Connell highlighted the return of office workers to the CBD as a crucial aspect in his business’ recovery.

“What was key for us is having interstate tourism and having city office workers not working at home … they’re in many ways the lifeblood of the city,” O’Connell said.

“I think it’s something that should be thought about when people are working from home, there’s big flow-on effects.

“Most people are back, my regulars who work in city office buildings and otherwise.”

Just over 70 per cent of city office workers have returned to the CBD as of March, according to the latest figures from the Property Council.

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