The last few years have been tough on Melbourne’s second-hand bookstores. The rise of digital books, the growth of online trading and increasing rent has claimed several high-profile sellers, including Fitzroy’s Basilisk Bookshop, Flinders Books in the city and the iconic Carlton Books at the Melbourne University end of Swanston Street. But whether you are a bibliophile with a passion for rare books or an avid reader out for a bargain, Melbourne still has a wealth of stores to choose from. Here are seven of the best.
Where to buy second-hand books
Husband-and-wife team Travis Brown and Benita Bunting are veterans of Melbourne’s book trade and their shop is proof. It’s an open, inviting space and considerable attention has gone into the layout and display of their wares. Brown and Bunting boasts an eclectic range, fiction, non-fiction and collectibles such as old magazines and graphic novels (a large collection of ’60s Phantom comics was bought and just as quickly sold on the day we talked to Travis). There are several shelves of science fiction and fantasy and, Travis estimates, over 2,500 children’s picture and chapter books.
A genuine, old school book exchange of the type that used to be ubiquitous across the suburbs but is now increasingly rare (its even located in a shopping arcade), Centre Court has a terrific selection of hard-to-get pulp and popular fiction, including crime, westerns, romance and horror. The prices are very reasonable and owner, Jim Gregory, seems to know exactly where every single book is. He is happy to look at any books you may want to sell, but only buys selectively so ring before you come in.
“We don’t specialise, we just make sure there is a book for everyone,” says Verity Mathews, whose family owns City Basement Books, the last second-hand bookshop standing in Melbourne's CBD. She’s not exaggerating. The shop has a huge range of fiction and nonfiction to choose from, including large selections on military history, transport and maritime affairs. They’ve also got an extensive second-hand engineering section, increasingly in demand since the closure of Melbourne’s Technical Bookshop several years ago.
Grubb Street has served the second-hand book lovers of Fitzroy for approximately 35 years. Current owners Justin and Michael Healy specialise in Australian art, literature and history, including Aboriginal history. An early edition of Patrick White’s The Solid Mandala, signed by the author (White rarely signed his books), will set you back around $500. If that’s out of your range, there’s also a wide range of reasonably priced fiction, non-fiction and collectibles.
Run by self-confessed “PhD drop out and former house dad” Paul Croucher, Red Wheelbarrow Books is located in a former fruit shop on the rapidly changing East Brunswick stretch of Lygon Street. A small shop with a decidedly bohemian ambience, there’s not a second-hand copy of Fifty Shades of Grey to be seen. There is, however a good selection poetry, art books and literary fiction. The shop also boasts a gallery space displaying paintings and drawing from local artists, which is also used for the occasional performance and book launch.
The longer running of two second-hand bookshops operated by David and Penny Syber (the other is at 668 Glenhuntly Rd, Caufield), Syber’s Books Windsor has occupied the same space for 22 years. With over 75 shelves of books there is something for everyone. The shop specialises in military history, children’s books, science fiction and crime. They buy second-hand books, but selectively, and only at the Caulfield location.
The only destination for second-hand book fans in the Western suburbs, Wayward Books has been operating in its present location for eight years. “I was made redundant on my 50th birthday and decided it was time to do something I loved rather than working for other people,” says proprietor Judy Collings of her decision to establish the business. The shop has an “unashamedly subjective stock range”, no sport or business and the health section was recently culled to make way for Collings’ particular interest, children’s books. She does buy second-hand books, but it’s best to ring beforehand.