When Emma Raven purchased a secondhand bookshop in Glen Eden in 2016, she never thought she'd meet her soulmate there.

But when Garrett Wells became one of her regular customers, it took Raven a while to click that he wasn't just interested in books and coffee.

Four years later, the couple now runs the Glen Eden Book Exchange together and live in a house bus with the three kids they share between them, Jake, Dean and Juniper.

It's the only secondhand bookshop left in West Auckland, filled with donated books old and new, inviting armchairs in the corners, and the smell of freshly ground coffee.


It feels less like a shop and more like a home, which is exactly what the couple wanted.

"We made huge lifestyle changes," Raven says.

"We sold my house and moved into a bus. We moved away from the consumer norm and paying huge mortgages."

Wells, who was driving in two hours of traffic to work from Tuesday to Saturday, left his finance job in 2018 to help partner Raven run the bookshop.

It was a decision based on the lifestyle they wanted, rather than making money.

"There's this push to be open all the time, but the shop is unhurried and I think that's the best thing about bookshops. I don't think we're actually very good business people," Raven laughs.

"No doubt we lost some sales, but we had to work out whether it was worth the mental duress," Wells says.

The shop is closed on Sundays and opens at a mellow 9am during the week.


"You have great conversations with people you might not have if you're not face to face," Wells says.

And it's those great conversations, along with good coffee and books, that led to the little family finding their own happy ending.

"Without those conversations, maybe I wouldn't have ended up with Garrett," Raven adds.

"It took me a while to think, maybe he's not just here for his coffee."

Having survived the first lockdown, the couple says Covid-19 hasn't had a huge impact on the business yet.

"Books and coffee aren't essential but they're not a huge luxury either, it's a little treat," Wells says.


"The community support has been really good and we're lucky, it could have been a lot worse."

Raven says it was "lovely" to be open again for contactless coffee and book orders in the second week of level 3.

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"It was quite bizarre. Lockdown was so strange for everyone. The first day back was really busy seeing all our regulars again."

And they say lockdown got them thinking about how they could run the business even more sustainably.

"We made the huge decision to get rid of our single-use cups and sat down and thought about what our new vision for the store should be," Raven says.

"We wanted to make that reuse normal. We originally had compostable cups but nobody composted them. It's not really a sustainable model, it's not circular."


"Maybe it's not the best commercial idea, but the idea behind it is that it comes back," Wells says. "It's going to impact all of us at some point."

Emma says having baby Juniper together has made this all the more relevant.

"Having a little person brought all of this to the forefront. Hopefully the lockdown and pandemic helps everyone to be a bit more reflective of their lifestyle."

Their main source for books is through their exchange system, which lets customers bring in books to swap out for new ones. Wells says they get no less than 20 people a week dropping off boxes of books.

"There's something for everyone. You develop an eye for what people want."

And believe it or not, "there is still a market for Mills and Boone," Raven says.


She describes her own taste in books as "off-beat" - she likes science, politics, non-fiction, history and horror. The last book Wells read was The Power of One and he likes to read anything to do with psychology, alchemy or politics.

"I would love bookshops to come back, they've died out so much," Raven says.

"The landscape of Auckland is changing so quickly, but there's still a place for real books.

"And we're not in competition with other bookshops. If you love books, you love them wherever you go."

Wells notes, eloquently, that nothing will ever replace the feel of a real book.

"It's about the tactile experience, the smell, the feel, the charm, it's a sensory journey."