How to open a bookstore opposite a hospital

We continue our series telling the stories behind bookstores around New Zealand as Lorna Bingham reveals how she found a cure for burn-out across the road from Wellington hospital.

It was visiting Books for Cooks in London in 2005 that first got me thinking about how working among books would be a great way to spend your day.  

Then I got back home to Wellington with the idea of opening a cookery book shop and saw there already was a cooks’ bookshop in Petone. My dream got buried in the reality of life, with a sizeable mortgage, a partner and two young boys, and studying for a Masters’ degree as well as working full-time as a senior nurse.

Ten years passed and the dream resurfaced.

Career burn-out had something to do with it. As well, seeing friends with cancer diagnoses made me realise it was time to do something different and find my creative self, to live the life I wanted – now. If I waited five more years it might be too late. Suddenly I found myself thinking: I could do this.

My shop had to be across from Wellington Hospital. I wanted to do something nurturing for colleagues and staff, to create a small oasis where they could pop in to browse, or pick up a book for the weekend to relax with after a tough week at the clinical coalface.  

I began approaching shop owners opposite the hospital and after a couple of years of inquiries I took up a lease at the end of 2018 – and Another Chapter was born.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that after 25 years of clinical work, and working as an advocate for nurses, I needed to recharge my batteries. My employer gave me two months unpaid leave. I also took my three week’s holiday leave and spent it behind a newspapered shopfront cleaning and painting my safe space.

Opening the shop has absolutely re-filled my soul and restored my faith in people. So many friends and colleagues pitched-in and helped out. My work/life balance was teetering and unfortunately things had become so challenging as a senior nurse and NZNO delegate that I’d forgotten how nice people can be. Colleagues and friends who knew me before opening Another Chapter see me now tell me how well I look.

People think the name of the store sounds like I’m selling second-hand books, but in fact I sell new stock. I’ve created a local book group and put out a monthly newsletter. A friend also runs a feminist book group monthly in the shop. We have author readings in-store, and successful poetry events.

But there’s a lot more to running a bookshop than a love of books. Every Wednesday night I attend a small business course. I was granted further leave without pay and have also invested some money my mother left me. Recently I returned to nursing two days a week. My boys have now left home, but when they're back they help out in the shop.

It's ticking over. Although winter is a quietish time, we’re building up the business and currently looking forward to the busy time of the year at Christmas.

Every day I meet interesting people and have time to listen to their stories. Being opposite the hospital it’s not surprising their stories are sad, happy, tragic and also hopeful. What we have in common is a shared love of books and reading - a magical place that all of us can can access. Reading a good book is a truly mindful experience.

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