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Newtown’s beloved bookshop lives on as a multipurpose community hub

Emma Joyce
Written by
Emma Joyce

Earlier this year, longstanding Newtown bookshop Gould’s announced they’d be closing the doors of their beloved building at 32 King Street due to rising rental costs. There was a cry of grief from locals who consider the crumbling secondhand bookstore a local institution. Thankfully, Gould’s won’t be leaving the suburb for good – they’re moving south to 536 King, near New Theatre, with a proposed opening date of late September.

So what will become of the building that’s been home for Gould’s since the late '80s? The site was pegged for demolition and redevelopment as housing, but it's been saved from that fate thanks to the founders of Commune – the creative and collaborative minds behind Erskineville and Waterloo’s warehouse buildings, which regularly host Middle Eastern markets, craft workshops, yoga by donation and experiential cinema screenings.

“It’s a bit of a long story,” says Commune founder Sam Ali, who was shown the space a few times over the years but was sensitive to the bookstore's history in Newtown. “It wasn’t until we heard they were moving out and it would be developed that I went quite hard with a bid to save it,” he says.

Ali says plans were already drawn for the building’s redevelopment, earmarked for a block of apartments. It’s a common story for Ali who tells us the two Inner West locations they own and manage were rescue efforts of historic buildings, including former antiques store Doug Up on Bourke, the largest site they own.

“We’ve had a huge outpouring of positivity online as to what we can do with the space,” says Ali, who is cautious to name an opening date for Newtown’s new flagship community space, except: “We’d like to open in some capacity before Christmas. This place is like a rabbit hole.”

Gould's Bookstore Newtown as at September 2018
To help clear the bookstore, there'll be a fire sale from September 17-30
Photograph: Supplied

The space is still packed with used and rare books, magazines and records piled high on shelves that look liable to fall down under their own weight, so from Monday September 17 the team will be holding a Massive Book Sale, where the public are invited to pick up paperbacks for $1 and records from $5. “We’re trying to help as many people as possible who need books, so that the community feels like they have a piece in the history [of the site]”.

From September 30, Ali and his team will start renovations to make way for what they’re calling “a space dedicated to supporting alternative culture in Sydney, providing a much needed platform for progressive ideas and local projects.” Sam explains: “I envision a new type of community space, a combination of what we already do and looking at what Newtown needs, but there’ll be a few surprises. It’ll be a space where people feel really comfortable that’s not a pub or a club or a nightclub, and I think that’s where we fit.”

Ali is keen to hear from Newtowners to find out what the community wants from this town hall-type model. They’re inviting locals to drop in during the sale to talk about their ideas, and they’ll have a consultation period where people can give feedback on the proposals.

“I think privately-owned spaces are important to the city. We have that freedom here and I would like for people to feel that it’s something they can contribute to, that’s really important.”

Visit the Massive Book Sale from September 17-30. It’s open daily from 11am-7pm at 32 King Street, Newtown.

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