A bookstore that has been the spine of the Canberra literary and music community since the 1970s will close its iconic front door this Friday.
Beyond Q bookstore in Weston has been trading as a day-to-day proposition since January, but it is not just smoke and a pandemic that has sealed its fate.
The store is closing because of a long-running legal dispute with the landlord about an overdue extension to the bookstore. But that’s another story altogether.
It’s been a tough few years for owners Simon Maddox and his partner Jenni Lawton, who moved their store to Weston under less-than-happy terms from Curtin shops in 2017 when their lease was not renewed due to the impending, and controversial, redevelopment.
Mr Maddox said the community has rallied behind its much-loved bookstore with people offering philanthropic tokens to keep them afloat.
“People have been coming in here all week – you haven’t been able to move, so there hasn’t been a lot of social distancing,” he said.
“It’s been humbling. People have come up from places like Tathra because they heard we were closing; someone gave us an envelope with $250 in it to help us over the hurdle.”
Jenni said they were told to vacate last weekend, but that was never going to happen given the aisles are heaving with more than 180,000 books and many rare collectibles.
Instead, the store will close its doors this Friday. Customers are asked to make an offer on the remaining stock.
Simon said the last chapter is still to be written and is still exploring options that could see Beyond Q open in a new location.
Bookstore lover and Weston Creek resident Bethany Williams summarised the experiences of many, saying “it’s a place you can spend all day in”.
“We need to protect our small businesses, especially ones that give people a place to enjoy – one that brings culture and vibrancy to a community that really needs it at this time. We need to save this bookstore and make the ACT Government change legislation that makes it so hard for small businesses to get fairness when dealing with commercial landlords.”
Mr Maddox, a former futures trader and management consultant, is equally passionate.
“There needs to be equilibrium between commercial landlords and tenants,” he said.
However, the impact has been more personal for Jenni.
“I don’t feel the stress of it all as much as Jen does, but she really feels the pain when we see people coming into the store in tears and talking about what the place means to them. It gets to me as well,” he said.
“There are some people where this place is literally their second home. We’ve had nights in here where we’ve helped clients and friends empty more than a few bottles of red wine while listening to the wonderful musicians we’ve had here.”
During the bushfires, Beyond Q also went above and beyond to become a drop-off point for the community to donate items and dollars that made its way directly to the frontline.
With help from Simon and Jenni’s daughter, Misty, and staff from Communities at Work, the donations went from needing a ute or two to a five-tonne truck on loan three days later to fit everything.
“The bushfires was one hell of a moment, but the generosity of all the people in Weston Creek who gave us so many things was remarkable,” Mr Maddox said.
The bookstore has also been a fervent supporter of live music, which was a firm part of the business’s expansion and diversity plan that saw Mr Maddox put $200,000 into the business to acquire a liquor licence, commercial kitchen, two entertainment spaces, and a 150-seat auditorium to cater for the 30 or so acts that play at the venue.
But the story of Beyond Q has always been about more than second-hand books. While it does sell books online, Mr Maddox said it is the people who make the store an essential part of Canberra’s cultural landscape.
“A lot of other bookstores are like supermarkets where the staff, with a few exceptions like QBD, don’t really know much about books,” Mr Maddox said.
“Bookshops also needs space. Unless you own your own building, you need to do be able to do things other than just be a bookshop, just to bring the people in. And once they’re in, they keep coming back. I think we must have the most photographed front door in all of Canberra and maybe Australia.”
Mr Maddox said he and Jenni have also met some amazing people who have shared equally amazing stories.
“You find out that the person you have been serving for the last three months is the chancellor of a university. You get those surprises that you don’t get if you just run a cafe. It’s also been some of the poorest of people who have got real stories to tell.
“If you want to pick up real stories, open a bookshop – a second-hand bookshop, in particular. It’s those stories that have made this place tick.”