Thank you to Cassandra Cassandra Willis (Book Buyer and Wholesale Administrator) and Holly Bennett (Online Shop Administrator + events, social media) for their answers!
Tell us the origin story of your bookshop
The people of New South Wales had a passion for art, and the Art Gallery of NSW had its first public exhibition in 1874. It turned out the people of NSW also had a passion for art education, artistic reproductions, and excellently-priced museum souvenirs, so the Gallery Shop evolved from a kiosk window, to a small gift store, to a cultural retailer with an extensive book range and multiple pop-up exhibition shops every year. All of the proceeds from the Shop support the Gallery financially, and we’re also crucial to the Gallery’s publishing division with our wholesale operations. Our events program hosts book launches, artist and author talks, an arts-loving book club, museum sector celebrations, and the creatively costumed extravaganza that is Love Your Bookshop Day.
What's your favourite bookselling memory?
There would come a certain time every year when an art teacher would visit our store with a list of her students’ Year 12 end of year major works, looking for appropriate books to support them. We’d always chat about the books, and her students’ projects, and it turned out she was always buying the books with her own money to make sure her students had the best chance of doing well.
Being absolutely schooled in literary truth by a 9-year old. I was trying to reassure her that her choice – a fairly high-concept novel from the general adult fiction section – was a good one, by saying “It’s a bit hard to figure out what’s going on at the beginning, but it all comes together and makes sense at the end.”
She listened patiently, looked me dead in the eyes and said “So… like most books, then.”
What do you tell people (or wish you could tell people) who say bookselling is a dying industry?
Stories never go out of style. The delivery technology can change the way people tell and receive them, but on our end, we see more people than ever who want to connect and engage with stories (and pictures!), and then share their own experiences with others. Our customers are the kind of people who have MULTIPLE favourite bookshops – this has us feeling pretty inspired about the future of the bookselling industry.
I let them know the statistics that show people remember the content better from reading a physical book much more than when they’re reading digitally, so the book will never die out!
What books make you happiest to see people buying?
Specialty publications I’ve found at book fairs that may not have any other Australian supplier, where I’ve met the author and know how much it means to them to have an audience for their book. It’s always fantastic to see how well the Gallery’s own publications are received, and see the rising interest in books on Australian and Indigenous artists. I love selling children’s books that encourage creativity and experimentation, and beautifully illustrated kids’ books - and of course, our staff picks and our Art Gallery Book Club choices.
What are you reading right now?
We’re reading a host of Australian art world fiction to try to narrow down our next Art Gallery Book Club pick. So far this has included ‘Painting in the Shadows’ by Katherine Kovacic, ‘Hare’s Fur’ by Trevor Shearston, ‘Where the Trees Were’ by Inga Simpson, and ‘The Biographer’s Lover’ by Ruby J Murray. We try to tie our Book Club reads to the Gallery’s exhibition schedule, and with the Archibald Prize coming up, a behind-the-scenes art tale could be a real winner.
-- Recommendation Challenge --
Someone comes in looking for a present for their sister who works in a bookshop. She loves to read everything and anything but has a million books already. What would you recommend?
I would recommend a gift certificate to the Gallery Shop, because there’s nothing booksellers love more than visiting other bookshops!