An Adelaide institution for sixty years and three generations, the second–hand bookseller O’Connell’s Bookshop has moved to a new location.
My grandfather started it in 1957,” says Ben O’Connell, the current proprietor. “After serving in World War II, he worked in several di fferent businesses before starting the bookshop. First it was in the Central Market, and then it moved to an arcade in between Currie Street and Hindley Street.” Which one was that? “Bowman’s Arcade” he says, to my bewilderment. “It doesn’t exist anymore,” he adds. “It was demolished in the 1970s. “After that, though, the shop moved to 23 Leigh Street. at’s the one I remember from my childhood. It remained there for 30 years, and only came to Hindley Street in 2000.” The O’Connell’s Bookshop on Hindley Street was full of old, wonderful books stacked to the ceiling, across every conceivable inch of floor space. It o ffered the browser both an unsurpassed range of literature, as well as the ever-present thrill/terror that one would knock over a tower of tomes. In the new millennium, Ben’s parents took over. “Up until then it had been just my grandfather running the shop, but his health started failing around that time. My mother and father took over. They changed it in their own way, and broadened the scope of what we sold.” O’Connell’s was housed on Hindley Street for 15 years. But over that time, demographic change and gentri fication have left the strip virtually unrecognisable. Yesterday’s grotty bohemian dives are now small bars for young professionals; the décor is much the same, only drinks cost twice as much and the bathrooms are much nicer. The bookshop had to move from Hindley Street, as the building that housed it was sold for a new Holiday Inn to be built. “We closed almost two months ago,” says Ben. The gargantuan store of books was moved into storage, and has now found a new home, if an unlikely one. The Station Arcade is known for its bottle-o, its Smokemart, its vapour inhalation device vendor, and its budget-price-Asian eateries. You would think it an odd fit for one of Australia’s finest, oldest, most erudite bookshops. Actually, it works a treat. Station Arcade, in a well and truly di fferent section of the gentri fication cycle, is changing too. This purpose-built thoroughfare, with 30,000 commuters passing through each day, is also the home of some fancier stores, and increasingly delightful places to eat. “ This place became available at just the right time,” says Ben. “Foot tra ffic has been very good – lots of new faces around, and tourists. All the regulars know we’re here too.” Much work had to go in to renovating the new location – which used to be a board game store. There’s a new, wooden floor, and some freshly erected shelves. “It’s a lot bigger,” he says, “about another 60 square metres more than the last store. I’ve just brought in a leather armchair that was my grandfather’s, so people can sit down – a luxury the limited space could ill a fford in the last shop.” The walls are still lined with packed bookshelves though, with the exception of one solitary blank wall. It is planned that posters and maps will be erected. If it’s not done quickly though, that section too will soon be covered in books. “I’m sure in time it will get just as crowded,” says Ben jokingly, though he’s probably right. As locations and ownership has passed from generation to generation, so too has the stock updated to keep with the times. Ben says that when his parents took over, they modernised the kinds of books featured in store, and he has updated the stock in turn. “I’ve brought in graphic novels, beat literature and what not.” With time ticking, and a great big new shop to look after, is it not time for Ben to churn out the next generation of O’Connell’s? “I’ve been thinking about that,” he says with a laugh. O’Connell’s Bookshop 19 Bank Street (14b Station Arcade)