Wednesday 1 November 2017

Farewell to Gould's Book Arcade - a Memoir

The late Bob Gould
News came through via today’s Sydney Morning Herald that (Bob) Gould’s Book Arcade in King Street Newtown is likely to close soon. In Newtown rents are rising and Bob's first wife told the SMH that: "Books have little place in the lives of people moving into Newtown these days." 

The rent is apparently going up such as to render the business unprofitable. There is an accompanying photo with Bob Gould’s first wife and his daughter which seems to suggest that the place is a lot more neat and tidy than it was when I last visited which was just after Bob’s death. I’m surprised to learn that that occurred some six and a half years ago.

I hadn’t really been a customer for a long time. But Bob was, up until his death, a customer of mine when I was the paid organizer of the Sydney and Sutherland Lifeline Bookfairs. Bob was always among the first through the door when we opened. Anything up to a couple of hundred people would be standing outside in a not always orderly queue and once inside they scattered far and wide. Many of those first stampeders were dealers like Bob, all looking for bargains. (I still remember the moment when one of the volunteers had thoughtfully, but idiotically, put all the Ian Rankin crime fiction lined up next to each other and one dealer simply swept them all off the table, in one fell swoop, into her large basket. The rest of the dealers groaned. You have to share the treasures around.)

Gould's Book Arcade as I remember
Bob always headed straight for the history section and plundered it unmercifully. Occasionally he brought along one or more of his bookshop staff to find stuff and pile it into a corner where Bob would handle it and decide whether to buy. After a while there would be two large piles. The pile he planned to buy or haggle over would be one side, the rejects, some of which he himself rejected after thinking a bit, would be on the other. Bookfair volunteers would have to put the rejects back on the tables at the end of the day.

Often Bob came back on the second day and found them again and bought them for the day two price of 50% off. Sometimes however he was onto something very quickly but thought the price was too high and would immediately want to bargain. Most memorable haggle was over complete set, nicely bound, of the Proceedings of the Samuel Griffith Society, one of those rabidly right wing organisations apparently, according to Wikipedia, founded by the arch conservative activist Ray Evans. It’s still going and recently held its Annual Conference where the Speaker’s List included such intellectual giants as Senator David Leyonhelm and Ms Peta Credlin.

I still vividly remember Evans being involved in a plot to take over the ALP Club at the University of Melbourne, under the then tutelage of the rabid anti-Communist Professor Frank Knopfelmacher. Post-university Evans went off to work for the rabid rightist Hugh Morgan at Western Mining and penned many of the speeches that Morgan delivered back in his heyday. But I digress. …Bob clearly thought that the Proceedings would be of interest to a buyer somewhere.

Gould's Book Arcade, more recent
When Bob had finished his Bookfair selection, he would call me over and we would sit down and he would pick up every book, look at the binding, consider the price and either accept it or seek to negotiate it down. We were pretty amicable and once he learned I’d worked for a couple of Ministers in the Hawke Government the chat went on long after the final tally had been settled. If he came back for the second day, conversation picked up where it had left off.  He would often engage with other dealers as well, testing out what they thought of the market at the time. Towards the end of the day, having devoted hours in pursuit of literary treasure he would then call his daughter and she would drive up in their van and we would load his selection in. Usually the van was chock a block by the time we’d finished. For a longtime he was the Bookfairs’ biggest customer by some margin.

When I visited his shop I would often be interested to see the same boxes piled up in any available space. I could tell how long they had been sitting there because we always used different labelled boxes for each fair, the boxes being bought from a wholesaler who usually disposed of stocks of boxes not wanted by some food distributor.

Bob Gould  and his beloved business kept books going.  He loved them and was a voracious reader of them as well as retailer from the various places where had his shops. Others tell stories of bolshy staff and the frequent hilarity involved in working for a man who was an activist, a true believer and a curmudgeon all rolled into one.

I know how tough bookselling can be from personal family experience but it’s still sad that Gould’s Book Arcade will soon not be with us.

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