Thursday, July 07, 2011

Goodbye to good books

In the city this afternoon, we took a walk through a shop that had been there all our lives. Seeing it closing down was like losing an old friend.

OBM (Oldham, Beddome and Meredith) began business in 1922 selling books to the people of Hobart. As a schoolboy, I used to go through there whenever I passed the corner of Collins and Elizabeth Street. The shop was shaped like an L, so you could walk in through the Collins Street entrance (the bookshop) and walk out into Elizabeth Street (where they sold newspapers).

In the centre of the shop was the OBM Circulating Library. They had yards and yards of books that you could borrow for a week for sixpence or ninepence. I think I worked my way through their entire Crime and Science-Fiction sections over the years.

By the end of the twentieth century, the shop had been taken over by the old-established [founded 1884] chain Angus & Robertson. It seemed odd at first when they changed the name of the shop, but it was still referred to in our family as “the OBM arcade.”

Alas, like many bookstores the chain fell in to the hands of conglomerates whose business was business, not selling books. I guess the trend to on-line sale of books didn’t help either. Whatever the cause, the Angus & Robertson chain went under, something that would have seemed inconceivable a few years ago, and the Hobart store was dragged down with the rest.

Walking in from the Collins Street side, it seemed as though there was a sale going on, with prices slashed on everything. But walking on a bit further, the real situation became obvious -- acres of empty shelves, stripped of every volume.

The Elizabeth Street side was almost empty, with a few rows of greetings cards at 75% off and a pathetic little table of stationery items. Gone was the array of magazines from all over the world, the dozens of different calendars, the complex window displays.

A skeleton staff forlornly sold what they could. Asked how long they’d be there, they replied “Wednesday is our last day.”

Who would believe that it could end like this?

Goodbye Oldham.

Farewell Beddome.

So long Meredith.

We shall not see your like again.

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