Get thee to a second-hand bookstore

Cambridge journalist Matteo Di Maio reports on the strain that the lockdown has placed on second-hand bookstores around New Zealand.

The tourists that used to buy most of Jo Catlin’s books in Raglan are long gone, and they’ll probably stay that way for a while. “I won’t have customers like I used to,” she said, about the effect of the lockdown on business. Catlin owns In My Good Books, a tiny second-hand bookstore in Raglan. She had no Wi-Fi or computer system to help with online sales and deliveries during lockdown level 3. “I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t get stock. I couldn’t open my shop.” She’s now pinning her hopes on things picking up in level 2. “We’ll see how we go.” And if it doesn’t go well? “I’m stuffed.”

There are about 50 second-hand bookstores operating in New Zealand (see full list below). It’s a fragile business at the best of times. Covid-19 has been the worst of times. Lockdown meant zero income for four weeks. Will they survive in the economic downtown that’s set to follow for the rest of 2020?

Wendy Barrow opened Red Books in Greymouth in June last year. She didn’t run home deliveries during level three and has stayed focused on preparing the store for a hopeful recovery in level 2. Red Books is a small store; Barrow wonders how it’s going to accommodate social distancing. “People sit and chat,” she said. “In a small town like Greymouth it’s an open bookstore and it’s important.”

But the biggest problem, she said, will be keeping up stock. “I source my books by travelling to buy at book fairs, op shops and church and community fairs,” she said. “These are all on hold.”

Her thoughts on the future of Red Books? “I’m just not sure how this will continue.”

Rachel Pope, who owns Browsers in Hamilton, spent lockdown pricing books. “It was the only thing I could really do,” she said. But will they get sold? That depends on whether you ask about the long term or the short term, Pope said. “My hunch for what it’s worth is that I think when we open again, I think they’ll be a flurry of activity. But I think we’re in for a really tight year.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time now and I’ve seen a couple of seasons where people just - they come in here and they have their wallets clamped shut. They don’t buy and it’s kind of soul-destroying at times and I think we’re going to have a patch like that.

“So many people are out there hurting… It’s going to be a long time before they catch up on themselves,” she said.

Warwick Jordan, the boss at Hard to Find in Dunedin and Auckland, shares Pope’s assessment of the situation.

“The really hard time is six months from now,” he said. “In my experience, six months to a year from now the real economic hit comes. You know, because you’ve got all these people who have had to tighten their belts, for one reason for another. I remember it in 2008. The hard times wasn’t the end of 2008, it was 2009 and 2010. They really hurt.”

But he isn’t going to give in. “I’ve been around a long time. I survived the ’87 crash. I survived the 2008 crash. And I will survive this. But it won’t be easy.”

The Dunedin store has 150,000 books listed on its website (“It’s the largest second-hand bookshop is Australasia,” Jordan claims) but the Auckland shop has no online presence at all. He estimates Dunedin was operating on about two thirds of its usual sales; Auckland was “operating on zero.”

Hard to Find, like many other second-hand shops, has had to depend to locals and regulars pitching in. “We’re really lucky in that we have an incredibly loyal and supportive customer base. At times like this, our customers really look after us,” Jordan said. His lockdown marketing strategy can be summed up in three words: “Please help us.”

But second-hand book shops have never been a massively profitable business. Jordan said, "I guess in a way, because our business is a permanent struggle, this has just added to the permanent struggle. We’re used to struggling. We’re struggling all the fricking time. Struggle is our way of being. You’ve got to tighten your belt even though you thought it wouldn’t tighten any more. You just make more holes in it.”

Anne Enery from the Little Book Shop in Napier is experimenting with an online presence for the first time. She’s listed books on TradeMe, and put ads on Neighbourly and Facebook. It’s worked to attract new customers: “It’s amazing how many people have come because they’ve run out of reading and they’re desperate.”

In a touristy town like Napier, every shop is in some way part of the tourism industry. Before lockdown, Enery used to often get Americans or Canadians coming through. “They were the ones who bought in bulk,” she said. “But it’s word of mouth that made the shop grow in the first place. And it’ll be word of mouth that will make it grow this time.”

Over in Auckland, Maud Cahill, the owner of Jason Books, kept busy shipping out online orders. But while “it’s a moveable percentage,” Cahill stresses that her shop is very much a retail business. “I don’t run out of a warehouse - I run out of a shop.”

Warwick Jordan from Hard to Find said he’s picking up business from “big corporates” such as Book Depository. “Those bunch of crooks are currently dead in the water,” he said. “They give free postage worldwide on books that cost less than the postage. There’s no way they’re making money on it. But that’s the Amazon plan—to take over.”

He’s a believer in brick and mortar stores.  “Second-hand stores are all about browsing around. You can make those serendipitous finds that you won’t do online. Buy the book next to the book that you want, you know. The book you never realised you wanted until you saw it. You don’t tend to do that online. They’re irreplaceable in my view.”

At Piggery Secondhand Bookshop in Whangarei, Samantha le Grice said the shop experimented with a click and collect model in level three, and was surprised at the volume of response. Piggery has put a table in the doorway, and le Grice and her boss go through a familiar motion: “We put their purchases on, we step back, and they step forward.”

David Walker at Pegasus Books in Wellington knows that motion well. He arrives at Cuba Mall every morning, and answers around 10-15 email, phone and website enquiries for books. “We’ve been forced to become an online bookstore,” he said. But he estimated Pegasus has been getting about 20 to 25% of its usual custom.

“We couldn’t exist if this was a perpetual state. I’m into history, so I know what happens when plagues hit. But I don’t know enough about online sales and how people are responding to financial uncertainty. I just don’t know enough. At the heart of it, though, is that people will still want to read books.”


(*flick us an email if any stores have been missed out)


Piggery, 42 Walton St, Whangarei
09-438 5481

Book Inn, Whangarei
09-435 3202

Village Books, Waipapa
Village Books Facebook page
09-407 3086

Molly's Little Book Shop, Kerikeri
Molly's Little Book Shop Facebook page
09-401 7159


Never Ending Books, 4/1 Moenui Avenue, Orewa
09 4266457

The Green Dolphin Bookshop, 82 Pitt Street, downtown Auckland

The Open Book, 201 Ponsonby Road
09-360 1741

The Book Dealers, 10/8 Glendale Road, Glen Eden
09-818 6092

Hard To Find Books, 2 Saint Benedicts Street, Eden Terrace
09-368 4898

Dominion Books, 230 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay
09-376 3978

Jason Books, 16 O’Connell St, Auckland Central
09-379 0266

BookMark, 15 Victoria Road, Devonport
09-445 2960

Rare Books Anah Dunsheath Antiquarian Booksellers, 6 High St, Auckland Central
09-379 0379

Mad Hatter Books (children's books; by appointment only)
2 Bob Craig Place, Pukekohe
027 662 7054


In My Good Books, 2 Wallis St,Raglan
0210 273 3081

Xanadu Book Exchange, 2C Ashley Place, Papamoa
Xanadu Book Exchange Facebook page
027 617 2235

Atlantis Books, 32 Bridge Street, Tokoroa
07-886 0471

Atlantis Books, 1206 Eruera Street, Rotorua
07-349 0472

Mt Bookworm, 324 Maunganui Road, Mount Maunganui
07-572 1346

Browsers, 298 Victoria St, Hamilton
07-839 1919

Mainly Books, 553 Pollen St, Thames
07-868 5533

Colonial Heritage Books, 40 Duke St, Cambridge


Dickens Books, 80 Dalton St, Napier

Minton Booklovers, 251a Emerson Street, Napier
06-833 6232

The Little Bookshop, 51 Latham Street, Napier
021 130 2859

Hawke’s Bay Book And Music Exchange, 66 Dalton Street, Napier
06-835 4814

The Little Book Shop, 51 Latham Street, Napier South
021 130 2859

Everybody's Book Shop, 102a Warren St, Hastings
06-878 4130

The Little Red Book Shop, 205 Heretaunga Street East, Hastings
06-878 9188

Everybody's Book Shop, 102a Warren St, Hastings
06-878 4130


Reid Books, 160 High Street, Eltham

Bookstop Gallery, 21 Brougham St, New Plymouth
06-758 8120

Trash and Treasures Second Hand Bookshop, 217 Featherston St, Palmerston North
06-355 2483

Beth's Books, 125 Manchester Street, Feilding
027 323 7454


Bear Flag Books, 230 Queen Street, Masterton
027 310 7800

Loco Coffee & Books, 50 Fitzherbert St, Featherston

The Dickensian Bookshop, 78 Fox St, Featherston
021 209 9732

Messines Bookshop, 76 Fox St, Featherston
021 753 920

For the Love of BOOKS, 87 Fitzherbert St, Featherston
022 659 7573

The Featherston Ferret, 40 Fitzherbert Street, Featherston
06-216 8279

Mr Feather’s Den, 19 Fitzherbert, St Featherston
027 494 2289


Book Hound, 132 Riddiford St, Newtown

Rainbow Books, 224 Riddiford St, Newtown
04-389 7324

Arty Bee’s, 106 Manners St, Wellington Central
04 384 5339

Book Haven, 160 Riddiford St, Newtown
04 380 0009

The Ferret, 175 Cuba St, Wellington Central
04-384 8786

Pegasus Books, Left Bank, Wellington Central
04-384 4733

David N White, 88 Abel Smith St, Wellington Central
04-384 9597

Liberty Books, 90 Main Street, Upper Hutt

Des Schollum House Of Books, 4 Hardy St, Lower Hutt
04-939 9578

Archway Books, 6A Teihana Road West, Pukerua Bay
04-239 9221


Bretts Books & Keys, 290 Queen St, Richmond, Nelson
03-544 5711

Still Books, 18 Scott St, Blenheim
03-578 9701


Red Books, 138 Mackay St, Greymouth
Red Book Facebook page


Edgeware Paper Back Centre, 52 Edgeware Rd, Christchurch
027 284 8166

Smith's Bookshop, The Tannery, Christchurch
03-379 7976

Hornby Books, 385 Main South Rd, Hornby
03-349 5413

David's Book Exchange, 14 Bower Avenue, New Brighton, Christchurch
03-382 4370

London St  Bookshop, 48 London St, Lyttelton
027 302 9646

The Booking Office, 10 Oxford Street, Lyttelton

Twice Cooked (Nearly New Cookbooks)

Online store based in Lincoln


The Twizel Bookshop, 25 Market Place, Twizel
027 4645 062

Readers Book Exchange, 119 Stafford St, Timaru
03-688 1305

Slightly Foxed Secondhand Books, 11 Tyne St, Oamaru
03-434 2155

Adventure Books, 7 Harbour Street, Oamaru
03-434 7756

Wanderlust Books, 55 Centennial Avenue, Alexandra
03-448 7100


Hard To Find, 20 Dowling St
03-471 8518

Dead Souls Bookshop, 393 Princes St
0210 270 8540

Galaxy Books, 841 Great King St
03-477 5170

Downtown Book Exchange, 426 Princes St
03-477 8780

Read On, Garden Shopping Mall 4 North Rd
03-473 0980

Any Rare to Recent Books, 209 King Edward St
03-456 3923

Scribes Books, Cnr St David & Great King Streets
Scribes Books Facebook page
03-477 6874

Vintage Books, 27 Waikana St, Broad Bay, Otago Peninsula, Dunedin
03-478 0488


Browse Around Books, 234 Yarrow St, Invercargill
03-217 9601

Help us create a sustainable future for independent local journalism

As New Zealand moves from crisis to recovery mode the need to support local industry has been brought into sharp relief.

As our journalists work to ask the hard questions about our recovery, we also look to you, our readers for support. Reader donations are critical to what we do. If you can help us, please click the button to ensure we can continue to provide quality independent journalism you can trust.

With thanks to our partners