This month, O’Connell’s Bookshop celebrates 60 years of selling the rare and the wonderful. Everything from expensive first editions to well-read cheap paperbacks have been bought and sold via three generations of the O’Connell clan.
It’s a funny world. Chain bookstores are disappearing due to online behemoths such as Amazon but independent and second-hand bookstores are still sought-after and celebrated in a world where people crave the tangible experience of handling books. So much so that Amazon has opened six brick and mortar stores in the Unites States, which shows that despite technological changes readers love to browse and interact with knowledgeable staff in a bookstore.
This is especially true for O’Connell’s, as Adelaide’s oldest second-hand bookshop has survived and blossomed for 60 years despite many location moves, the explosion of Amazon and changing trends.
O’Connell’s is now settled into its Bank Street premises after moving from Hindley Street, where they were based for 16 years, some two years ago. It is the fifth incarnation of the bookshop, which was originally set up at the Central Market in 1957 before moving to Bowman’s Arcade, then Leigh Street and then Hindley Street. Current proprietor Ben O’Connell is enjoying the somewhat new space.
“It’s a lot larger than our last premises,” O’Connell says. “The proximity to the Convention Centre and hotel precinct on North Terrace is good because we get a lot of international and interstate people come in, which is good for the city and us.”
While there isn’t an event or sale to celebrate 60 years, there are a lot of intriguing antique books and wonders on the shelves, such as letters from Colonel Light that have never seen the light of day, a hand-signed Walt Whitman book, bibles from the 1500s and an original Howl by Allen Ginsberg. There is also more than 1000 books that cover the history of South Australia.
To survive for 60 years is testament to the relationships O’Connell, his parents and grandfather have built with customers and to the breadth of stock at O’Connell’s, as everything from crime paperbacks to antique children’s books, colonial maps and graphic novels can be found on the shelves.
“We try to stock a very broad selection of things from things that are 300 to 400 years old to modern things such as graphic novels. If you’re too specific in what you do, it might be to your detriment.
“The main thing is the people and the relationships we build with customers. I make new relationships with customers every day and every week. I deal with people my father and my grandfather dealt with. That rapport continues in the generations that way. I suppose it’s something I enjoy the most about the shop, the people. I love dealing with books but the people and the relationships you make is what gives a lot more to the job and, possibly in turn, that’s good for the business as well. The relationships we establish with customers, whether they are new or ones we’ve had for 30 years, plays a big part in what separates O’Connell’s from the other bookshops.”
19 Bank Street (14b Station Arcade)
Photography: Sia Duff