Every week on The Primer we ask a local business or product to introduce themselves in eight simple takes. This week we talk to Jo McColl about Unity Books Auckland’s new offshoot just down the road: children’s bookshop little Unity.
ONE: How did little Unity start and what was the inspiration behind it?
I’ve been longing to get my hands on that little store on the corner of High Street and Vulcan Lane for many years. It’s such a beautiful little space, but it’s not until recently that I knew what I’d put in there. Last Christmas we gave more room to our children’s book section [at Unity Books Auckland] and the response was immediate. So when I was offered the opportunity to take the lease on the corner space, it was clear to me what the direction would be.
TWO: Did you have any interest/experience in business prior to working at Unity? If not, what sort of background do you come from?
I began working at Unity Books part-time when I was at university in Wellington in 1978 and I’m still here. My mother worked in bookstores and its possible bookselling is in my blood as my great-grandfather, G.H. Bennett, started up Bennett’s Books in Palmerston North. It was once very well known but more recently it’s been eaten up by Whitcoulls.
THREE: What do you think makes a successful children’s book? Are there certain genres and/or types of book that are doing particularly well at little Unity at the moment?
The beautiful children’s book publishing available now is astounding – you only have to look at the wonderful expanse of Unity’s window. Non-fiction is a genre that increases continually – the combination of imaginative and gorgeous illustrations with stimulating facts and figures is something that appeals to both the young and old.
FOUR: Since little Unity opened in September, what sort of response have you guys had so far? Has business at Little Unity translated over to business at Unity Books? Or vice versa?
The response has been deeply heart-warming. Local retailers, publishers, customers, passers-by, and the book trade, in general, have all conveyed their happiness, excitement, and support for little Unity.
Having removed the children’s books from the main store, we’ve also had a little more room to breathe. But Christmas is approaching and I suspect that within a week or two, we’ll be as crammed as ever. But to answer your question, yes the extra space in Unity has been good for business.
FIVE: In a world where people both increasingly read and shop online, would you say that opening another bricks and mortar store in 2018 is a bit of a risky move?
A lot of people did say to me that opening little Unity seemed like a risky move, but I didn’t think of it that way at all. The world of children’s books is exciting and expanding and to me it seemed like a no-brainer.
SIX: Despite the expectation that ebooks/tablets would become the prevalent format among young readers, children still seem to love print. Why do you think that is? Why do you think children’s books are one of the book industry’s few growth sectors?
The arrival of ebooks made no difference to Unity Books book sales. I firmly believe that beautifully produced and intelligent books will continue to coexist alongside tablets. We sapiens are tactile creatures who love to acquire beautiful objects and an ebook isn’t that. Children grow up with tablets – nothing unique about a tablet. However, a lovely, large, luscious, volume to interact with and to talk to your parents about? Hey, nothing beats that.
SEVEN: Do you have any other plans to scale/grow further and if so, what are they?
As of right now, we’re just recovering from this birth and the new baby is proving to be very energetic. As for the future, well, anything’s possible.
EIGHT: Lastly, tell us about a New Zealand start-up or business that you really admire right now.
Stolen Summer is a hole in the wall coffee shop right across the road from little Unity. It opened five months ago and it’s the most lovingly crafted small space with just the right vibe. I really wondered if the business would work in a street filled with cafes, but Stolen Summer turns out to be really special.
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