Growing up my parents owned a shop on the main street of Ballina. I spent many a weekend and school holiday day in the back room of that shop watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit on the TV my parents put in there and walking up and down Main Street window shopping. My favourite store of all was a second hand book store down an arcade that lead to the river backing Main Street, it was called ‘Reader’s Delight’.
Oh I loved that store. I would buy books and exchange books and spend hours figuring out what book I would beg my parents for money to buy next. The old man (he seemed ancient to the eight year old me) was friendly and chatty and didn’t complain I was pawing through 80% of the books on his shelves like the people who ran the book store located right next door to my parent’s store.
A couple of years ago my family (including my parents) were in Ballina and we returned to the store because we were already headed down the arcade on another errand. I was delighted to find the store still there, just as perfect and packed with books as ever. The same old man reclined behind the counter, an open book in his lap as I remembered. When he recognised me – now in my late twenties – you couldn’t have removed the smile from my face. Unless you told me what my next trip would be like.
Last week my husband and I returned to the area to visit a nephew turning eighteen. Though we were staying in another town we had a reason to go to Ballina and parked near the arcade on Main Street as that was the first park we found. When our errand was completed we walked past the mouth of the arcade. I regaled my husband with my stories of ‘Reader’s Delight’ and he asked if I wanted to go down there. With money and time alike a little tight (and a cranky toddler) I replied “No, it’s okay.” I ducked a little to see the sign at the end of the arcade. “The signs there still, so I know it’s still there, that’s good enough for me.”
Unfortunately my husband decided money and time weren’t so tight and he would like to see if they had any good children’s books. Something didn’t feel right, but we went anyway. As we approached the storefront I could feel the crack opening in my chest. An empty, dusty store hid behind the glass pane whose only decoration was a ‘for lease’ sign. No books with yellowed edges packed tight on shelves, no sweet old man reading his book and smiling from behind the counter, nothing but that sign on the arcade awning still there only because no one had leased the location yet.
For a few moments I felt as if my childhood had been stolen away by this closed store. I had to remind myself away from the melodrama (I do have a tendency after all) but still couldn’t help but wonder, had the GFC hit my favourite store? Had my adored store owner passed away? Again with the melodrama. When I expressed my distress to T-J he calmly told me that it was more likely the owner had simply retired (and that is why I married him).
I like the image of the bookstore owner sitting in his home, all the books he couldn’t sell stuffed into his own shelves, reading happily on a recliner in his retirement, the smile on his face a mirror to the smiles he created on thousands of book lover’s faces through the decades he ran Reader’s Delight.