Love Books is able to survive in a suburb that is constantly evolving due to its relationship with its customers and members of the community.
A faded Afrikaans quote from Réney Warrington’s book, Oktober, has lain on the doorstep of one of Johannesburg’s oldest suburb’s remaining independent bookshops, Love Books, since 2012, emphasising a habitation that was once predominately Afrikaans.
ENTRANCE: A customer step’s over the quote from Réney Warrington’s book, Oktober.
GENRE: One of many embroidered signs hangs on a bookshelf of non-fiction books.
Love Books is situated in Melville’s Bamboo Lifestyle Centre and has its front door a metre away from the bustling Rustenburg Road. Situated at the corner of the centre, Love Books’ main entrance stands out due to the pink and red cut-out stickers on the windows and the display of books’ visibility from the road.
The structure of the shop allows for one to see through to the back of shop and catch a glimpse of the sunshine in the courtyard upon entering by the front door. Another two entrances allow for visitors of the centre to explore something new after having their hair cut or something to eat at one of the centre’s eateries, the Service Station, for example.
The inter-leading doors between Love Books and Service Station makes it easy for customers to stroll in and out. The wooden tiles leading into Love Books tell the story of many who have walked through, while the shop itself looks the same as it did nine years ago. The majority of traffic that flows into Love Books is made up of Service Station customers and one cannot help but wonder whether the footsteps leading into Love Book would be fewer without the presence of their neighbour.
It’s not every day that one comes across an independent bookshop. The existence of Love Books is unique as it is one of two independent bookshops in the area and one of few in Johannesburg. The survival of the bookshop in an artsy and evolving Melville goes unnoticed as almost every customer that walks in has a relationship with owner, Kate Rogan, or one of her three employees. The way in which the bookshop values itself on the relationship it has with its customers allows for its survival in a time when a hardcopy book is not always an individual’s first option.
As the front door creeks open, a carefully selected range of books strikes the eyes of a well-dressed, middle-class lady. Books are arranged by genres which are labelled by signs embroidered by shop manager, Anna Joubert. Shelves from floor to ceiling and tables both high and low are bursting under the weight of unread books. Posters of books and picture frames relating to authors occupy the spaces on the walls and unopened boxes of books hide under shelves. Gift cards, colouring-in books and notepads fill the gaps. Dolls hang from the ceiling and music softly plays while the chatter from neighbouring conversations seeps in through the inter-leading doors.
ENTREPRENEUR: Kate Logan, owner of Love Books, glances at one of the many books on her shop’s shelves. Photo: Mary Sayegh
A confused-looking individual rushes in through the front door looking to buy wine only to find out that for the past nine years the space has been occupied by a bookshop. She exits the shop as fast as she walked in.
A young girl dressed in a multi-coloured striped towel, matching costume and flipflops is reading The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling. Another lady, dressed in her gym-gear, walks in only to realise she has used the wrong door and does not want a book but a cup of coffee from the Service Station.
Love Books was started by Jaci Jenkins and Kate Rogan on June 8, 2009. Rogan remembers the days before her shop’s doors opened and how her home lounge was filled with boxes of books waiting to be shelved. Having started 11 years after Service Station came into
“When we started out the majority of our traffic came from the Service Station, well a big portion of it did, and now we can stand on our own completely. So, I do not mind having people using our doors to get there as we needed their doors to get people here,” she says.
DID YOU KNOW?
Love Books has an annual sale on their birthday.
All unsold books are donated to charity.
SOLD: An infographic of the top five books sold in one year.
Louw Kotze, the manager of Service Station and customer of Love Books, says that he has a great working relationship with Rogan and her bookshop. “We fill in each other very well. I enjoy our shops being linked as our customers go there and their customers come here,” he says.
Rogan has managed to keep the doors of her bookshop open through her entrepreneurial mind-set of running a business. The 52-year-old has always been a part of the book industry in one way or another. Before opening Love Books, Rogan produced Talk Radio 702’s Book Show from 2004 to 2009, which she says helped increase her book knowledge and understanding of the market. She was also a commissioning editor at Zebra Press, which became a part of Struik, where she worked on “loads of interesting books”. She prides herself on her shop’s book collection which she has individually handpicked. She buys books directly from their publishers and regularly meets with book representatives in order to keep updated with the new books that are coming out.
Most of the books in Rogan’s shop are written by local authors as Love Books honours itself on its support of local authors. Before making room on loaded bookshelves, selected books are welcomed into the shop through book launches which have been taking place since Love Books opened its doors and have always been catered by the Service Station. To date, their biggest book launch has been Suzelle’s DIY: The Book by Ari Kruger. Rogan explains that over time more launches have occurred and, as a result, they have become “an integral part of [the] business”.
Saleeha Idrees Bamjee, a South African author, is a regular attendee of book launches at Love Books. She says, “It’s helpful that [Love Books] is in a complex with popular eateries, I’m sure they benefit from the foot traffic and vice versa … Many people would rather support a small independent business than a franchise, especially one that makes an effort to be inclusive and on the pulse.”
Bamjee had her first published poetry collection launched in the shop in September this year. “To have my own (book launch) take place there felt like a graduation, a culmination of a fulfilling creative journey,” says the 35-year-old.
Bamjee has her own book on the shelves but she admits to being a Kindle reader as it allows her to download books quicker than she can get to a book shop. She believes that technology is affecting the way in which individuals interact with hardcopy books as well as bookshops.
“Some people do only Kindle, some people do only books, some people do a combination and it is okay for now,” says Rogan.
Joubert, who manages the shop on weekdays and spends time reading with her family on weekends, says that customers unashamedly come into the shop and admit to having downloaded a book on their electronic device. She says there is no judgement on how individuals prefer to read and that some of the customers who have downloaded a book come in looking for a hardcopy.
Amanda Mitchell, another Love Books employee who works on Sundays, says that with the evolution of technology not many people read anymore. “It’s the parents raising their children to read rather than have all the other available technologies and interests who come here,” she says.
Another effect on Love Books is the competition that the bookshop has with the country’s leading book chains. Rogan explains that she is not always able to compete with book chains as she does not have the mass market that a shop such as Exclusive Books has. She may sell items other than books, but her market is not looking for anything more. She says that she can put the books and items Exclusive Books has on their shelves, but they are not going to go anywhere.
“I offer a sort of curated selection of stuff. I think people come in here, like my customers like coming in here, because they know that what is on the shelf has been thoughtfully chosen and they can kind of rely on that part of their decision making around buying the book,” she says.
Customers of Love Books are mostly made up of Melville’s community members, but others have come from all corners of Johannesburg, with the odd customer being a tourist from a foreign country.
Community members consist of residents, students from universities nearby such as the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) and the University of Johannesburg (UJ), individuals from neighbouring suburbs as well as those who work nearby. The proximity and offerings of the suburb to its neighbours is inviting for all and Rogan is both proud and pleased that her bookshop has been able to survive the evolving environment of what has become an artsy Melville. Having had two bookshops close down since 2009, one of which Rogan signed a petition to keep open, she is confident that her shop will continue to survive. As one of two remaining independent bookshops in the suburb, Rogan believes that, “Melville is a great place to have a bookshop because we are really part of the community, and it’s a community that is interested in reading and supportive of authors”.
WATCH: Entrepreneurs survive in a market where human traffic is not always great for business.
MAP: A map of the surrounding entrepreneurial hubs in Melville. Created by: Mary Sayegh
The shop has individuals, who are mostly middle to upper-class, coming through the doors on a daily basis. The age of these individuals ranges from as mature as 99-years-old to as young as 9-week-old babies in strollers having their parents purchasing them their first book. While some individuals use the main entrance as a gate-way to the Service Station or others stroll in through the back door that links to the centre’s hairdresser, most individuals come in to see what book they can get their hands on. Most individuals who enter show some interest in what the bookshop has to offer and although a purchase may not be made on every visit, a conversation between an employee and an individual is usually had.
Rachel Silber, an employee of Love Books who works on Saturdays, believes that the shop has been able to keep its doors open due to its reputation in the community and word-of-mouth attracting new customers. The full-time Wits BA student does not think that everyone who is a customer at the Service Station knows that there is a bookshop right next to them but having the inter-leading doors allows for them to discover something new.
“We (at Love Books) like to think that we are a portal to knowledge and enlightenment for people who walk through the doors of Service Station,” says the 19-year-old.
ENTRANCE: The inter-leading doors between Love Books and the Service Station.
Nicole Fritz, a long-standing customer of Love Books for the past five years, regularly visits the centre with her husband and two children. They frequently have their Sunday breakfast at the Service Station as it allows for their kids to come into Love Books and let their imaginations run wild.
The basket of easily-accessible books for young children, who are wanting to read on their own in the shop, allows for any child to come in and enjoy the books. The basket is piled with books that have been used by children over the years and is inclusive of all genres from fairy-tales and fantasy to fables and myths.
Fritz’s kids rush into Love Books in their Sunday best to pick up whatever they can get their hands on. Although they are at an age where they cannot read, they can be seen opening books at a rapid rate and staring as if to make up their own narrative just by looking at the illustrations inside their selected book.
READ: Used children’s books are ready to be read by any child who walks into the shop.
AFRIKAANS QUOTE ON THE FRONT STOEP:
– Oktober by Réney Warrington
“I hold out my fingers and we walk at a child-like pace, with his fingers intertwined with mine until we reach the closest vegan restaurant. Jason should call if he is looking for his son. I pick James up at the counter so that he can see what everyone does. I order food, he lingers around the waitresses with his big, sad eyes. He hasn’t learned to hide that from the world.”
Fritz explains that her family’s attraction to Love Books comes from the shop’s selection of titles and friendly staff. “It’s got a very different feel from like an Exclusive Books. We’ve got to know the people who are here and the staff are incredibly patient with my children so that’s a big thing.”
Maintaining good relationships with customers is an integral part of Love Book’s future. Every employee explains that being interested in people and what they are looking for is the reason customers return.
Joubert explains that she has journeyed with customers just by getting to know them. “There’s regulars that I have seen dating each other, breaking up and then asking me to witness their prenuptials and now they are parents of two-year-olds,” she says.
The journey of Love Books is far from over. Rogan sees herself running the shop for years to come and believes that being in a destination centre with no passing trade emphasises the importance of inter-leading doors drawing people into her shop. Her entrance will remain open to all customers of the Bamboo Centre while the words on the front stoep slowly fade away.