Writing on the wall for independent bookshops, as Electric Shadows announces closure

Writing on the wall for independent bookshops, as Electric Shadows announces closure

When Electric Shadows Bookshop closes its doors for the last time next month, Australia's best-educated and highest-earning city will have just two independent bookshops left.

Co-owners Anne Hutton and Katarina Pearson said that despite their flourishing Braddon surrounds, the writing had been on the wall for some time when it came to keeping their business running, even before Cornucopia, the much-loved bakery next door, closed in December.

Katarina Pearson, left, and Anne Hutton of the Electric Shadows Bookshop, in Braddon, which is closing down.

Katarina Pearson, left, and Anne Hutton of the Electric Shadows Bookshop, in Braddon, which is closing down.Credit:Melissa Adams

"We knew the building would be sold … as soon as anybody who owns a building puts in a development application to get the purpose clause changed, you know it will happen sometime," Ms Hutton said.

Both have been involved with the shop for more than two decades, and oversaw its last big move when Electric Shadows Cinema, its original neighbour and adjunct business, closed eight years ago.


Once established in what, back then, was the dead zone of Mort Street, in Braddon, surrounded by car yards and petrol stations, the shop evolved to suit the rag-tag artsy strip it had become part of.

"It was a nice little corner of Braddon. And that's what I always say - an arts precinct evolves on its own, you can't force that," Ms Pearson said.

The shop has a wide range of art and film books, in homage to its former incarnation beside the cinema, as well as a movie rental business on the side, and architect-designed suspended shelving.

It has also hosted numerous book launches for local and national authors, a passionate cause they have always seen as integral to the role of a bookshop.

However, the two have watched as other independent bookshops have sputtered and died out, with the advent of online sales and e-readers.

And with rents more than doubling in their soon-to-be demolished current location, and little else on the horizon, they have come to the decision wind the business up and take a holiday, and maybe even some long-service leave.

They admitted that if they were younger, more energetic and, crucially, more naive, they might try and give the shop a go elsewhere.

But by the end of April, Paperchain in Manuka will be the only long-running independent bookshop left.

Meanwhile, across town in Westfield Woden, Harry Hartog is a new contender in the market.

Set up by the Berkelouw family, the shop - which, because of its shopping mall location, many have mistaken for a chain - opened six months ago and hopes to reignite some of Canberra's love for a good read, at least in the Woden Valley.

Ms Hutton said that, as with any new small business, optimism was key.

But she gave short shrift to the inevitable onslaught of supportive condolence messages that would come with their announcement.

"We know that they'll go, 'Oh woe is me, it's a terrible tragedy', but it's all too late," she said.

"We've all argued all those arguments about what it means to support local for years now - it's the bookshop mantra. And after a while you think nobody's listening. They really aren't."

Andrew Pike, who founded the bookshop alongside his art-house cinema of the same name almost 28 years ago, said he was saddened by the bookshop's closure, but that there was a sense of inevitability about the future of such shops.

"I am sad, but we have to celebrate the fact that we had it for so long," he said.

"The cinema didn't last, but the shop has, and I think it's a credit to Anne and Katarina and their team that they did last so long against all odds when others were closing all around them ... I think that's the wonderful thing about an independent shop, is that it can actually express principles."

The shop's book launch program will end on Friday, March 27, with award-winning author Amanda Lohrey.

The owners are planning a massive, "wrecking ball" sale of all stock and fittings in the store, beginning on April 1, and intend to keep selling until everything is gone.

A closing party is planned for the end of April, and the shop's most famous ex-employee, the acclaimed writer Christos Tsolkias is expected to attend.