My happy place: Carole Beu - owner, The Women's Bookshop

Carole Beu loves being surrounded by books. Photo / Doug Sherring
Carole Beu loves being surrounded by books. Photo / Doug Sherring

My happy place is The Women's Bookshop. I have spent almost every day of my life here for the past 25 years. I love being surrounded by books all day, every day.

I opened the bookshop 25 years ago this month in Dominion Rd. It was more or less an accident. I had no idea what I was doing, really. I was friends with the woman who was editing Broadsheet magazine at the time, Pat Rosier, and they had a shop front they didn't need. She told me, "We need someone to take over our lease here and open a proper bookshop, and I think you should do it."

I was an English and drama teacher and had no experience of business at all but I thought, "Oh well, I've always got teaching to fall back on. I'll take a punt."

People have told me how brave I was, but I had no concept that I was being brave or that I was taking a risk because I didn't know the statistics about the number of small businesses that fail. I just learned by doing, and I had a lot of help and advice from people in the book trade - Karen Ferns, Geoff Walker, Tilly Lloyd.

Women's bookshops and presses grew out of the feminist movement of the 70s and 80s. We're one of the few survivors in the world. When we opened we had a focus on books by, for and about women. These days we have a much broader stock range and we stock a lot of books by men and have a lot of male customers - but we still have a huge following from women. We still are a bit different because we focus more on things of particular interest to women.

We've talked about changing the name to the People's Bookshop or something, but that would disappoint a lot of loyal women out there because there's a real sense of community ownership of the shop. When I moved to Ponsonby Rd in 1999, 30 or 40 of our customers turned up on a Saturday to do it, with trucks and trailers and vans. That was when I understood how much people loved the shop.

Also, sadly, there is still a need to promote women's books and have a space labelled The Women's Bookshop. Although the situation has improved hugely, things that men say and write are still taken more seriously than things that women say and write. It's silly and often an unconscious bias, but it still exists.

My shop caters for everyone, and it's also a community meeting place and a literary focal point for so many bookaholics. We've created a very welcoming and inclusive environment, and great conversations go on here. I am very lucky because I love what I do every day.

The Women's Bookshop, at 105 Ponsonby Rd, celebrates its 25th birthday this month. Thursday and Friday night shoppers in April can celebrate with a complimentary glass of wine, 6-8pm.

See www.womensbookshop.co.nz

- as told to Bronwyn Sell

- Herald on Sunday

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