It’s not often that a bookshop has a baby, but the Auckland branch of well-loved independent bookstore Unity is expecting a new Unity on September 1. Naturally, it’ll be a children’s bookstore.
Owner Jo McColl says she’s been angling for the retail space 'little Unity' now occupies for many years. She told the space’s owner 10 years ago that it came up, Unity would love to have it, and was finally rewarded for her patience in March.
“I was just delighted,” she says.
Various incarnations of the new shop were floated – one option was a specialist travel shop, or an art and architecture shop. A store focusing on New Zealand publications was also considered. But in the end, the right path was clear.
“It was just so obvious it had to be a children’s bookstore,” McColl says.
Sales in books for children are “rocketing”, says McColl, with childrens’ books sales at Unity’s Wellington outlet up by 3 percent over the last year. McColl will hire two additional staff – they won’t necessarily be always working in the new store, but will join the Unity roster as a whole.
“One of the really exciting things is being able to take all the children’s books out of the shop and have all of this space,” she says.
She’s planning a bigger science section, picturing piles of atlases and “getting everything off the floor”. However, she’s realistic about the book trade: “I think we’ll have the space for probably about two months and then it’ll be back to chaotic order.”
For the new childrens' bookshop, McColl and her team are enjoying ordering “lovely things” from overseas publishers which have never before been sold in New Zealand. With the added space, they’re able to indulge the growing trend of “big, beautiful” children’s books which prioritise artwork on large-format pages.
“Hopefully, it’s going to feel just like Unity does, with all kinds of odd and interesting books you don’t find anywhere else – except for little people.”
The space has been designed by Sophie Edwards, daughter of Unity childrens' buyer Angela Travers and Sophie’s partner Tom Dobinson. Sophie Edwards used to work in the store as a teenager, McColl says, so she understood exactly what the Unity team were looking for in a fit-out. Nick Edwards, Sophie Edwards' father, is building the fit-out.
The 27-square-metre store is roughly a quarter the size of Unity Auckland, and directly adjacent to it. It has a good stretch of window running down High St and into Vulcan Lane.
“As far as I know, it’s the only shop in High St that gets any sun,” says McColl.