While book stores around the world have struggled against tightening economies and the onslaught of digital books, a Cape Town phenomenon celebrates its 10 birthday today.
The Book Lounge, at the corner of Roeland and Buitenkant streets in the east city, was opened by Mervyn Sloman 10 years ago today.
He had been working at Exclusive Books for some years, but believed chain bookstores and independent bookstores could happily co-exist.
“They serve different functions. I felt there was room for my sort of independent bookstore at the time, so I opened my own space,” he said in a telephone interview earlier today (December 1, 2017).
He confesses to being a little surprised the Book Lounge is still here, but adds: “It’s a tough world, no question about it, but we believe in what we do and we’ve worked hard at it.
“Every now and then I meet people who want to open a shop, and I say that it is possible, but you have to live it and be very passionate about it. That’s one part of how you survive.
“Also, from early on we received lots of support from people who saw value in what we were doing – not only in selling books but having conversations about books and setting up conversations between writers and readers. We’ve tried to set up a place where people feel comfortable.”
The store holds launches and gatherings three to four times a week, and Sloman says they also say no to a lot of things.
So looking back, how does he think they’re doing? “We’re doing okay – you’re not going to buy a house in Camps Bay on the basis of being a bookseller, but that’s not why we do it. We sell enough books to pay the rent, pay the staff, and pay for the books. We’re not going anywhere.”
Paying the staff is not an insignificant amount – the Book Lounge employs seven fulltime staff and six part-timers.
On the basis of this success, would they think of expanding and opening other branches?
“No,” says Sloman firmly. “I suppose the standard retail model is if you do something successfully, then the growth model is to replicate that and open other examples of the same thing.
“That’s not the right thing for us. We have the Open Book Festival every September” – Sloman is a director – “and that’s our expansion option.”
So how does he feel at having reached this moment?
He says: “I’m not a big one for milestones, but I’m definitely feeling quite emotional about this. There are things we could do better, things we need to change, but it’s been a good 10 years and I’m proud of that.” – Vivien Horler
- The Book Lounge is celebrating all day today. There will be 10% off all purchases, free tea and coffee until 5pm, and drinks and snacks between 6pm and 8pm. Sloman promises there will be no speeches, but plenty of birthday cake.