Another page turns
The bookshops and booksellers behind Page & Blackmore represent more than 150 years of Nelson's literary history, but they are set to move on to another chapter when their iconic store on Trafalgar St is sold.
Page & Blackmore went on the market for the first time on Tuesday. A Nelson institution which has twice been named Independent Bookseller of the Year, it was founded in 1998 by two married couples, Susi and Tim Blackmore and Peter and Ann Rigg.
Nelson was home to a small village of bookshops when Page & Blackmore first opened. Rather than a completely new store, it represented a merger between Susi and Tim's store Blackmore's Booksellers and Peter and Anne's Pages Bookshop.
Peter said Tim had been visiting his store when the merger was first suggested. He described the relationship between Nelson's existing bookstores as "very collegial" during the late 1990s, saying each serviced different sections of the market so competition was low.
"When all the book reps came around with a new title, we'd say to them, ‘How many has whatsername bought?' so we knew how many to buy and there wasn't a glut of them in the town."
Mentioning existing stores which specialised in educational textbooks and books for schools, Peter said Pages had been a "blokes' bookshop". Established in 1910 and purchased by the Riggs in 1984, it was known for its strong nautical section, large computer section - "back in the days when people needed computer books" - and a wide array of magazines.
The Blackmores bought what became Blackmore's Booksellers in 1991. Located next to the popular cafe Chez Eelco, it was originally set up in 1964 as the ABC Bookshop. Susi said her store was firmly focused on fiction and creative books, saying it had a "huge" literature section supplemented by biographies and books on art, music and popular science.
"When we moved [into Page & Blackmore] it was amazing how few duplicates we had," she said.
The owners agreed that literary fiction had always been the biggest section in Page & Blackmore, but non-fiction was now beginning to give it a run for its money. Since the store's establishment in 1998, some sections had fallen away - Susi said the internet meant atlases, dictionaries, encyclopedias and computer manuals were no longer in the kind of demand that they used to be.
"You used to be able to judge a bookshop by its atlas stockholding . . . a proper bookshop had a big range of atlases."
The owners said the loyal customers who followed them from both Pages and Blackmore's had given the store a "family feel" over the years, although not every interaction with the public had been positive. Susi spoke of an incident some years back when Tim had stood up to a vandal who was cornered in the store after breaking an item in Trade Aid.
"He looked as though he was going to skittle [the Trade Aid employees], trying to run out of the shop, and Tim thought, ‘Well, I can't really let him knock these women over,' so he grabbed him. They ended up in an unseemly scuffle on the floor, and then he realised that this bloke had his teeth firmly implanted in his arm."
An elderly regular customer who had once been a publican in London's East End came to his aid. "He knelt down on the floor and he grabbed this young man's ankle and started turning it. He said, ‘You let go, sonny, or I'll break your effing ankle."'
Police arrived shortly after the man let go of Tim, who was taken to hospital. "It makes a very funny story but it wasn't so funny at the time," said Susi.
Peter recalled chasing a gang of four hoodlums down the street after they threw a metal paper-stand into the store, nearly hitting a customer.
He said he felt intimidated when he realised he was all alone against the group, until Tim and two customers arrived on the scene.
Beyond excellent customer service and an exciting selection of books, Peter and Susi said the store's role as naming rights sponsor of the Page & Blackmore Readers and Writers played a big role in strengthening the store's relationship with the community.
It was an associate sponsor with Woollaston Estates from 2003 until 2009, when it took on full naming rights. Page & Blackmore remains the only bookshop in New Zealand with naming rights to a festival.
"We didn't really think a lot about it," said Peter. "It was just, ‘Yes."'
Festival co-ordinator Jacquetta Bell said last year's lineup of talks and panels drew an audience of 1500 people, with a record five shows sold out.
"The team at Page & Blackmore are fantastically supportive sponsors for this event, offering advice during the selection process, attending all the events with their book stall and acting as a sounding board throughout the year."
Susi said the feedback from the public following the sale announcement had made her feel "quite weepy".
"Somebody called us once ‘The cultural heart of Nelson' and, when you see people connecting in the shop, it feels really nice."
Nelson history website The Prow has recorded the history of the bookshops run by Susi and Tim Blackmore and Peter and Ann Rigg as below.
Nelson was home to one of the first bookshops in New Zealand, which was opened by Charles Elliott in 1842.
1910: Alf Robinson sets up a bookshop in Hardy St.
1949: Cecil Page buys Mr Robinson's shop, and it becomes C. Page & Son Ltd.
1964: Bob and Jill Anderson open ABC Bookshop.
1967: Norman and Jacqueline Sparrow take over C. Page & Son Ltd, renaming it Pages Bookshop. It moves to 249 Trafalgar St.
1973: The ABC Bookshop is transferred to John Acheson, who runs it in partnership with Jill Anderson.
1980: John Acheson starts The Bookmark on Buxton Square and Jill runs the ABC Bookshop alone.
1984: Peter and Ann Rigg buy Pages Bookshop.
1991: Tim and Susi Blackmore take over the ABC Bookshop. It is located at 284 Trafalgar St.
1992: They rename it Blackmore's Booksellers.
1998: Pages Bookshop and Blackmore's Booksellers merge to become Page & Blackmore.