Victorians are supporting small businesses across the state over the festive season and beyond.
It’s a reassuring hallmark of human nature that when the going gets tough, people rally and help each other out.
That happened during the pandemic, where locals made a point of getting behind small businesses in their neighbourhood, and it’s happening as we head towards the holiday season
A prime example is Brunswick Bound, a family-run bookstore in Sydney Road.
Having lived in Brunswick for 26 years, Susie and Rob Arambasic love the fact that the suburb is one big village.
“That’s my favourite aspect of Brunswick,” says Susie, “we embrace differences and share backgrounds through food, culture and events.”
Shaking off their corporate jobs, the couple opened Sydney Road bookstore, Brunswick Bound in 2007, keen to do, as Susie puts it, “something that brought us joy, but also added something positive to the neighbourhood”.
“We’ve built up to a team of ten - each with great passion and book knowledge - and they provide a really personal experience: people feel we’re their personal store. There’s rarely a moment where we can’t find a really interesting book for someone to take home.”
That approach certainly clicks with the locals. “Brunswick’s rich in authors, musicians and lots of very creative people. We’ve always held author events, and we’ve grown to include poetry events, book clubs and more. Those events will keep growing, as people really want to reconnect. That’s the value of shopping locally and supporting small businesses - it’s a real connection.”
Seeing how the community in Sydney Road have come together during the pandemic has reaffirmed Susie’s love of the area. “Retail owners and shoppers have always been very loyal and supportive of each other; we value that we all stay afloat, and we support new ventures.”
Speaking of new ventures, Brunswick Bound offered free delivery during that time, with the couple’s three sons dropping the books off. “Our wonderful customers kept ordering so that we could keep delivering. Customers often spoke of their children’s joy with us when a package was dropped at their front door … especially in the winter months, it was often a highlight for their kids to receive a package of a new jigsaw puzzle or their latest favourite author to read.”
The store’s online monthly book club continued during lockdown, growing in size. Author events were also run via Zoom and although Susie would have preferred to have them face-to-face, she says that “it was nice to celebrate an author’s new work where possible”.
Customers also supported each other through the shop’s ‘Pay it forward’ program during lockdown and beyond. “It’s a lovely thing for customers to offer each other, and to see the joy it brings to people who can’t afford the book they really want. The program is there for when it’s needed, and it was lovely to offer customers who may have done it tough in lockdown to be able to get a book to enjoy.”
If anything, the pandemic has reaffirmed Susie’s view that she has found her calling, “We love being on the Sydney Road strip. People wander in and some stop just to chat or share something that is happening in our area. Our shop is a long space that draws you in, our children’s area is a cute little gem in the far corner, and we have a gift store upstairs for Christmas with free gift wrapping: customers are always surprised when they get to the top of the stairs.”
Looking back over the past couple of years, Susie says books have been a gentle solace. “With so much going on in the world and having to engage with the internet on a daily basis, books create a step outside. I particularly enjoyed reading about characters travelling; it was an escape from reality in lockdown. It has also been nice knowing that we were putting books in customers hands and helping them ‘escape’ for a moment too!”
Given summer holidays and a good book often go hand in hand, what Victorian author does a bookstore owner read at the end of the year? Tough choice. But at the top of her tall pile, Susie is looking forward to reading Melbourne author Emily Bitto’s ‘Wild Abandon’ as she adored Emily’s previous novel, ‘The Strays’.
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