It gives me such pleasure to introduce Laura from the cutest ever bookshop, The Mad Hatters at Manly. I take any opportunity I can to browse this glorious feast of literary delights and never, ever come away empty-handed! Laura and her team are so knowledgeable about children’s lit and even with my long history of teacher-librarianship and reviewing, Laura is still my ‘go to’ for tricky questions like ‘What’s hot in graphics right now?’ What better way to spend a little time on one of these glorious spring days we’re having than to go for a drive, go book-shopping, enjoy some food at one of the many cafes in the neighbourhood and relish Manly’s iconic views? Get thee thy skates on – the sooner, the better!
My name is Laura and I’m the co-owner of The Mad Hatters Bookshop situated on Quandamooka Country in Manly, Queensland. We are an independent bookshop with a focus on children’s books all the way from babies to young adults, as well as a selection of new release fiction and non-fiction for grown-ups.
When the store opened in 2015, there were very few bookstores around that focused on children’s books. Ann-Marie, the original owner and a talented illustrator, based the store’s theme on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, with little references scattered around the store: a yellow brick road, an enchanted reading corner and a rabbit hole. (We often tell the kids the rabbit is asleep to stop them pulling on the legs, however we stopped after one little one inspected it and informed us, ‘No, he’s not breathing, he’s dead.’) A few years later, we turned our back room into a Harry Potter-themed games room—the only part of the store which the adults get more excited about than the kids.
Over the years, we’ve hosted book launches, writing workshops, story readings and pop culture-themed parties, with our Harry Potter party being, to this day, our most popular event. We also host three book clubs for kids & teens and two for adults, which, depending on the age group, elicits important conversations such as, ‘Is social class in Australia real?’ or ‘Who has the most outlandish Stranger Things theory this month?’
My favourite thing about the store is how eclectic and bright it feels, despite the small space. Growing up, I loved bookstores but disliked the bland uniform shelving of commercial chains, so it is always a joy to see people skip down the yellow brick road or sit in the reading chair in the enchanted story corner, or search the store for little book references.
Bookstores are facing many challenges in a post-pandemic world, including rising book prices, low profit margins, competition from discount stores who utilise loss leader pricing tactics, and delivery delays caused by a fractured global supply chain. The past few years have seen quite a few Australian bookstores fold and little government support for the bookselling industry. But the pandemic has also bolstered a great deal of grass roots community support—with people looking to social groups like book clubs for connection. And it’s this support we hope to lean on now and in the future. To quote the great Neil Gaiman: ‘A town isn’t a town without a bookstore.’