Buying ebooks may be convenient but it can't compete with the personality and charm of our best bookshops, writes Danielle Wright.

The final chapter on independent bookstores has probably been debated as long as the demise of the printed book, which Virginia Woolf talked about way back in 1927, long before ebooks were even invented.

But, it seems small bookshops in New Zealand are still alive and well and run by passionate bookish people with high ideals.

Danielle Wright found some of our best independent bookshops to support during the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival, starting on May 11.

Dear Reader
436 Richmond Rd, Grey Lynn. Open Mon-Fri 9.30am-5.30pm, Sat 9.30am-4pm and Sun 10am-3pm. Ph (09) 360 0383.

With macrame lightshades, a comfy sofa with colourful cushions and author Emily Perkins sometimes shopping for children's books in the corner, Dear Reader is everything you'd expect from a well-loved local bookshop.

Owned by Helen Drummond and Tom Beran, it's run by staff who not only love books, but who also love people, so it's friendly as well as full of carefully chosen books.

Tom and Helen have many years' experience in the book industry. Tom was publishing director at Random House and Helen also worked in the trade before moving into retail.

Mention Dear Reader to anyone in the publishing industry and they will say words like "fabulous" and "love them" and "those two have done so much good for the Auckland indie book scene".

Booklover in Takapuna was Helen and Tom's first bookstore; they bought it in 2004 wishing to leave years of corporate life behind. Dear Reader was bought three years later and was named by its original owners to "tell customers exactly what they will find".

And their emphasis on customer service is true to their name - you do feel like a "dear reader" shopping for books here.

The Women's Bookshop
105 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby. Open Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat-Sun 10am-5pm. Ph (09) 376 4399.

Carole Beu, owner of the Women's Bookshop, is a powerhouse on the Auckland literary scene, yet she's also happy to spare anyone the time of day to enthuse about her literary passions. Her bookshop focuses on books by, for and about women, but men are also welcome.

Although she is prominent for promoting women's literary fiction, she also stocks the largest range of counselling and therapy books in New Zealand and describes the bookshop as "a friendly, safe environment".

The Women's Bookshop grew out of the feminist movement of the 70s, when there were many feminist publishers and women's bookshops worldwide, most of which are now closed, absorbed into the mainstream.

"We still have visitors from overseas who are delighted that we still exist," says Beu, whose store is also well known for its author events and book group evenings.

She also reviews books for radio and television and next month, international guest Geraldine Brooks, famous for People of the Book, will be in-store promoting her new novel.

Beu started the bookshop 22 years ago after being talked into it by a friend and says books are "my passion, my hobby and my work all rolled into one".

Muirs Bookshop
62 Gladstone Rd, Gisborne. Open Mon-Fri 8.30am-5pm, Sat 9am-3pm and Sun 10am-2pm. Ph (06) 867 9741.

It's almost worth going to Gisborne just to visit Muirs Bookshop, the oldest and largest independent bookshop in the country. In fact, many international authors do visit Gisborne just to read to its customers in the sunny cafe on the second floor, or on the downstairs tartan couch.

Anne and Michael Muir were descendants of Charles William Muir, who opened the store in July 1905. They sold the business to Kim and Guy Pittar in 2008, yet it retains its integrity and supplies the best of literary fiction, non-fiction, biographies, Maori books and children's books.

"I had been in and out of bookshops in both Auckland and Hawke's Bay and never came across anything quite like it," says Kim Pittar, who was a rep for Reed Publishing before buying the business. "The old-fashioned entranceway, so narrow, that might indicate a tiny shop, was hiding this deep, cavernous treasure trove of books. It seemed like a magical world and I still smile at the amazed and glowing comments from visitors to Gisborne who walk in the door."

l220 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay. Open Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat 10am-4pm and Sun 10am-3pm. Ph (09) 376 5869.

Siren Records' MD Tracey Magan is sitting on the bench outside talking to owner Andrew Maben, while his 6-year-old sheltie dog, Max, holds the fort inside. After 18 years here, Andrew's literary and limited edition bookshop is truly part of the community. He tells me "the owner is pretty cool," before I realise he in fact is the owner - thankfully I had only heard great things about this bookshop and had just finished telling him so.

Novel specialises in good fiction, coffee table and signed, limited edition books. It sits cosily between Trendy Indian restaurant and the fish 'n chip shop.

Maben describes it as "literary and funky" without the slightest bit of literary stuffiness, and locals receive laid-back yet informed suggestions for books, and life, on the bench outside whenever they feel like dropping by. Meeting Maben and Max, you can see why the formula has been such a success.

Poppies Shop

Shop 4 The Village Green, 415 Remuera Rd, Remuera. Open Mon-Fri 9am-5.30pm, Sat 9am-4pm. Ph (09) 524 4001.

This tucked-away little literary gem is housed in the old horse stables (c1890) in Remuera's quaint village green. A few years ago, former arts librarian and interior designer Elise Harper bought the bookshop and has since created a very special setting for her extensive range of books, stationery, music and gifts. The poppies mural, created by a Hungarian artist, remains on the ceiling in the first room of three in the store.

An old French oven sits beneath a wide range of cookbooks, while more are tidily placed in sections like "meats" on a French Baker's stand. Her non-fiction choices feature coffee table books on everything from Aboriginal art to a grown-up picture book by Leonard Cohen, hard-to-find sporting (a large selection of fly-fishing books are stocked), architecture, "extraordinary lives" and travel books, as well as book-themed items, which sit tidily in shelves and on stands with, you guessed it, lots of poppies dotted around in between.

Time Out

432 Mt Eden Rd, Mt Eden Village. Open 9am-9pm, seven days a week. Ph (09) 630 3331.

Right in the heart of Mt Eden Village, Time Out bookstore has been a well-loved part of the community for the past 23 years.

Famous for its books, as well as its window displays and Oscar the not-so-wild cat (now sadly deceased), it's small yet full of thoughtfully chosen books sold by down-to-earth staff.

Although many bookstores boast comfortable sofas and reading lamps, you never get the impression you really could just sit there and read for a few hours. In Time Out bookstore, however, it really does feel like you'd be more than welcome, and not bothered by anyone, if you did browse for hours.

And because they're New Zealand's original open-late bookstore, you probably could linger longer than usual.

Time Out sponsors George FM's Bookish and Awkward book review show and regular events are held upstairs, such as the philosophy discussion groups with Dr Bill Cooke on the last Tuesday of every month.

Unity Books

19 High St, Auckland. Open Mon-Thurs 8.30am-7pm, Fri 8.30am-9pm, Sat 9am-6pm and Sun 11am-6pm. Ph (09) 307 0731.

Unity Books is legendary in the Auckland literary community, but you do get the feeling that it knows it too.

The interior feels like a messy yet carefully curated private library stuffed full of treasures.

It would probably be impossible to buy a boring book in here, everything jumps out wanting to be bought and cherished and it's known as a "haven for the different, for the obscure, for the unique".

Owned and run by Jo McColl, Unity caters to "those marching to the beat of their own drum" and she stocks obscure and interesting titles from overseas, as well as fostering unique Kiwi literary talent.

The Village Bookshop

Matakana Village, Matakana. Open 7 days: Mon-Sat 9am-5pm, Sundays & public holidays 10am-4pm. Ph (09) 423 0315.

In Matakana village, directly underneath the Matakana cinemas, is The Village Bookshop. Owner Tracey Lawton was part of a "goal-setting" group of women friends who suggested she look at doing something she was passionate about. This led to her being mentored by a friend of a friend, the late Judy Barnes, who started the original Poppies in Remuera and Dear Reader in Grey Lynn. Barnes helped Lawton with her first buy with the publishers and instilled some very old-fashioned but solid retail practices. The shop is warm, intimate and inviting with a mix of books to cater for all visitors.

Other bookshops worth a look
* The Booklover
Hurstmere House, cnr Hurstmere Rd and Anzac St, Takapuna Beach. Open Mon-Fri 8.30am-5.30pm, Sat 8.30am-4.30pm, Sun 8.30am-3.30pm, ph: (09) 489 8836.

The North Shore's sister store to Dear Reader mixes bestsellers with lesser-known titles.

* Wright's Booksellers
54 Victoria St, Cambridge. Open Mon-Thurs 8am-5.30pm, Fri 8am-6pm, Sat 8.30am-4pm, Sun 10am-2pm.

Owner Hamish Wright should know a thing or two about books; his great grandfather, grandfather, uncle and parents are the Hedleys of renowned bookstore Hedleys Booksellers in Masterton, who put on the annual Yarns in Barns festival. He began working at Wright's in 1999 and bought the business in 2006 from his parents after a corporate career.

* Books A Plenty
28 Grey St, Tauranga, ph: (07) 578 6607.

Winner of the New Zealand Independent Bookstore of the Year in 2007, this Bay of Plenty store regularly holds author events. Next up is Kelvin Cruickshank on May 16.

Industry support

Show your local bookstore some love ...

More independent bookstores can be found through the Booksellers NZ directory.. They also have a "Find your nearest bookshop" map on the site.

In its 11th year, the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival is a festival of literature and ideas, bringing together acclaimed writers and thousands of readers and thinkers. Starts May 11 with local independent bookstores selling onsite.