After 40 years, the iconic Beyond Q is writing its final chapter

Michael Weaver 4 June 2020 16
Simon Maddox and partner Jenni Lawton

Beyond Q bookstore owners Simon Maddox and partner Jenni Lawton at the bookstore’s cafe in Weston. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

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.

The famous door at Beyond Q

The much-photographed entrance to the Beyond Q bookstore. Photo: Supplied.

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.”

Bookstore owners in the Beyond Q shop at Weston.

Beyond Q bookstore owners Jenni Lawton and Simon Maddox, with their assistant Cat Cotsell. Photo: Supplied.

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.”

Ceiling lamps

The famous lamps on the ceilings at Beyond Q.

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16 Responses to After 40 years, the iconic Beyond Q is writing its final chapter
rossau rossau 11:31 pm 11 Jun 20

A rainbow fades in Weston.

Monica Tiffen Monica Tiffen 11:58 am 07 Jun 20

I missed it terribly when it moved from Curtin, and my second Son always visited the one at Weston when he came at Christmas, and took me. I loved it, and am very sorry to see it go!!!

Tricia Lawrence Tricia Lawrence 8:22 pm 06 Jun 20

Sad beyond words.

Elizabeth Croft Elizabeth Croft 11:44 am 06 Jun 20

I live in hope they re-open

Ric Hingee Ric Hingee 10:32 pm 05 Jun 20

Boycott the landlord.

John Brinsmead John Brinsmead 6:35 am 05 Jun 20

wonder when we'll see a da for an 8 to 20 story building.

Theresa Rand Theresa Rand 1:00 am 05 Jun 20

Very sorry to read this article... my husband and I do not live in Weston but would make a trip to Weston to visit the bookshop and cafe... I hope the bookshop and cafe find a new venue to continue the encouragement of reading and sharing community spirit... thank you to those who provided the bookshop and cafe service - you will be missed.

Ali Sewter Ali Sewter 10:13 pm 04 Jun 20

No way - gotta Save it

John Wilson John Wilson 9:52 pm 04 Jun 20

The one place with soul, in a bleak 1980's landscape. Such a great loss for the inhabitants of culturally deprived Weston Creek!

Allira Middlebrook Allira Middlebrook 9:28 pm 04 Jun 20

Such a shame, it was wonderful

Fiona Furze Fiona Furze 9:16 pm 04 Jun 20

What a loss for Weston and the rest of Canberra.@

Marnie Hodsdon Marnie Hodsdon 8:42 pm 04 Jun 20

Lovely story Michael Weaver - so sad this place is closing 😭

Sonia Burke Sonia Burke 8:05 pm 04 Jun 20

This is terrible. The bookshop and cafe added so much to the community spirit of Weston interesting and friendly meeting place lost....hope they can find the energy to find a new spot because locals loved the owners and the concept.

Sonya Davidson Sonya Davidson 7:55 pm 04 Jun 20

So very sad. Loved going there

nealg nealg 5:51 pm 04 Jun 20

Sad to hear the news. A great place. BeyondQ supported bands and artists in Canberra for many years. It was one of the few venues around where you could hear good alternative music and jazz. I hope we don’t lose SmithsAlternative in Civic as well. There are too few venues in town that cater for live music of the type that is not played on commercial radio.
Hopefully a phoenix BeyondQ rises from the ashes.

Chell Inez Chell Inez 2:34 pm 04 Jun 20

So, so sad this great shop which contributes so much to our community is closing 😥

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