Hawke's Bay book lovers can now officially lay claim to what they've known for a long time - the region has the best bookshop in New Zealand.
Wardini Books, which has stores in Havelock North and Napier, won the Nielsen Bookshop of the Year 2020 in the Book Trade Industry Awards on Wednesday night.
It came as a surprise to owners Louise and Gareth Ward who attended the awards on Zoom.
Sitting at home, Gareth in pyjamas and Louise on the couch with their dog, the couple said they were "completely stunned and surprised" when their name was called out as the winner.
In previous years, bookstores such as Unity Books Auckland and Time Out Bookstore Auckland won, so the couple are stoked there has been a win in the regions.
"It's just brilliant that it's come to the provinces and that we are punching above our weight," Louise said from their Napier store on Thursday.
"It's just lovely that our little book shops in the Bay have been recognised as the fantastic book shops they are," Gareth said.
Bookshops were judged in the awards on the criteria of operational excellence, customers and service, their place in the community, the physical shop, commercial sustainability, online presence and their Covid-19 response.
Chris Szekely, who was a judge alongside Ka Meechan and Rob Kidd, said in choosing a winner they were drawn to Wardini as there were "indisputably-strong bonds between bookshop team members and their diverse customers" and a number of examples where they went the extra mile caring for each other and the community.
Gareth said people often tell them it's the nicest book shop they've ever been to, so it was nice to have it "formally recognised".
He said the community was an integral part of the two shops and they maintained a connection during lockdown through regular social media updates and emails.
The community's love for the bookshops was also obvious when orders flooded in after the online reopening at level 3.
Then when they re-opened the physical shops, people came back "almost in tears" with joy that they were able to return to their favourite bookshop, Gareth said.
Louise was previously a teacher and Gareth an IT man, and the couple opened their business first in Havelock North about eight years ago, then in Napier about four years later.
They looked at a bookstore which was for sale in Havelock North and were told not to buy it as it was failing.
The pair decided to give it a go anyway and rebranded as Wardini Books – named after Gareth's magician alias The Great Wardini.
"We thought this needs to be magical, to be a place where people want to come where children drag their parents in from the street," Louise said.
"It's not just the physical feel of the shop, it's the smell of it, it's the welcome that people get when they come in and they feel part of the place."
They are planning how to celebrate with their seven other staff, who all have their own unique areas of interest, sometime soon.