When Robert Ford announced he was opening a secondhand book shop in Seddon Village, he was met with an overwhelming response of incredulousness.
Many of his friends and peers thought it was a risky move in a digital era with kindle and e-books on the rise and huge overseas retailers undercutting the market.
“When we first opened, that was what everybody said: You’re mad,” he laughs. “But I suppose that was my passion, books and book repair, and I just had a belief that there was still a community here, given it is a village community, that would support something as entrepreneurial and artistic as this. Because it is an arts community - there are a lot of artistic people around here.”
As it turns out, his hunch was right. Seddon Book Alley began, as its name suggests, as a pop-up store in an alleyway just off Charles St and specialising in secondhand books. The reception was overwhelming from locals and visitors alike, and after 18 months Robert felt brave enough to move into a permanent retail space just around the corner on Victoria St.
“Now more than three years in this space it’s full and busy every weekend with our local customers and many travelling to scour our shelves for that second-hand treasure,” he says.
“We now enjoy customers traveling from across Melbourne and regional areas every week saying that this is the kind of bookshop we need. It’s clean it’s tidy, it’s light and people are just rapt that we have been here for five years.”
Seddon Book Alley is a generalist store, so you can find everything from children’s books to biographies, art, and top-selling Australian and international crime and fiction. But Robert has developed some niches due to his passions - cooking and wine (he is a chef by trade), history (national, international and local) as well as music.
The store is also a great resource for fantasy, graphic novels and sci-fi..
“This stock has really taken off because there aren’t too many stocking this material , so we are fortunate enough to buy a fairly large collection so that set up that area for us so we have a lot of people coming here for that now.”
Robert has also learnt the “dying art” of book binding, and can often be seen repairing customers’ old and worn treasures by reattaching torn off spines and repairing well-worn pages.
Robert says secondhand book stores are a treasure trove for all kinds of people who come looking for gifts, for specific titles or just to browse, and he has some favourite customer ‘reactions’.
“What I like is people coming in unexpectedly and going ‘I’ve been looking for that!’ or ‘I remember reading that’ or ‘I lent that to someone and never got it back’,’ he laughs.
Robert says book donations come from all over, and he is very grateful to be the first port of call for those downsizing or decluttering, and saving titles from landfill. All donations are received gratefully, and those who drop off books are given a store voucher. And, to encourage young readers to engage with books and storytelling, they get a discount if they spend their own pocket money.
“It is a great encourager of keeping them engaged with books and reading,” he says.
Visit Seddon Book Alley, 107 Victoria St, Seddon.
Ph: 0419 524 320
Opening hours: Friday to Sunday