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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The little off-road bookstore

Catherine Groenestein

Patrick McKenna always has several books on the go between customers in his Waverley second hand book shop.

Patrick McKenna doesn't get a lot of customers at his book shop and that's just the way he likes it. 

The Book Bank is located in a former bank in the small South Taranaki town of Waverley. 

With just under 800 residents there's not much foot traffic and McKenna gets plenty of time to read his own products.

"This place doesn't make a lot of money, it's more of a hobby, but I'm a pensioner so that doesn't matter. It pays its own way," he said. 

"I'm at the age you don't have to be anybody. Ambition is dead, you are who you're going to be, so enjoy it. If you haven't made it by now, you're never going to."

Prior to moving to Waverley McKenna was an antiques dealer and ran a bookshop in the Wairarapa. He's also a musician.

Patrick McKenna's Waverley bookshop used to be a bank, in 1903.

He moved north with his wife Raewyn after seeing the century-old former bank for sale online in 2016. 

"We liked the idea of a place we could live and work from," he said. 

They live above the shop and can see the sea from the garden behind the building. There are musical instruments in the strong room, and there's no road noise, thanks to the 10mm glass in the windows from the banking days.

McKenna gathers stock from book fairs, op shops and people clearing out a house or downsizing.

"People our age don't like to throw away books, so they bring them here. I got eight banana boxes of war books recently, and they're good ones, from the 1950s. I've sold some already."

Inside the sunny shop, rows of classics including Steinbeck, Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare and Hemingway face shelves of philosophers and tomes on language and linguistics.

A Taranaki section has books about shipwrecks, pioneers and traders, monuments and the mountain.

Nearby there's Maori, history, biographies, war and philosophy, explorers and politics.

In a room to one side books on art, architecture and artists line the shelves around an oak table - McKenna's reading spot.

He likes the stories hidden within the stories.

"Quite often there are little things tucked into the pages of a book you never expect to find - art union tickets, war tokens, photos and flowers."

The inscriptions written into the fly leafs of others hint of their past.
"This room is full of voices and thoughts that people have put down."

When a customer does come in, he's happy to chat, find out what authors they have enjoyed, and suggest others they will like too.

A lot of his customers are older people who love rare and classic books.

One Auckland couple recently detoured through Taranaki en-route to Wellington to visit the shop, he said.

He worries about falling literacy rates, and the lack of reading among younger people.

"You pick up a book and suddenly you drop into that world. We're losing that."

With thanks to Don Gilling

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