... 25 years ago, a lady named Helen Baxter opened a bookshop...
....and a very special book shop it was at that. In fact, the Blues Point Bookshop's blue neon sign, and the woman behind it, have been at the heart of the McMahons Point community ever since. In over two decades of devotion to the printed word, Helen has read around 20 books every month. She still hand writes the reviews that adorn her green shelves and the price tags on the back of the books. "All 28,000 of them, and more at Christmas," she says, gesturing around every bibliophile's dream destination.
“Many of my customers say it’s like an art gallery,” Helen smiles. “The majority of bookshops display their books spine out. Mine are covers forward. Customers sit on the couch and take in these wonderful covers and I see them picking one book from here, and one from there, and they stack them and go through them one by one to choose.”
northsider’s interview is peppered with customers stopping by to pick Helen’s brain about books and authors. And it’s not just locals – the store’s charm has international fans who add a visit to their holiday plans.
“I had a lass in yesterday who was visiting from Canada,” Helen says. “She’s a book-a-holic and whenever she travels she always checks out local bookshops online before she leaves home. She found me on Pinterest of all places!”
“People often gasp outside the door when they walk past,” Helen continues. “Oh! A real bookshop!” And they do the circuit round the shelves. Many say ‘thank you’ on the way out and it’s such a genuine thank you that it gets you through your days.”
Helen dedicates herself to the independent store and works up to seven days a week, supporting new writers and organising special literary events as well as running the shop.
“People often gasp outside the door when they walk past. Oh! A real bookshop!
“The art of survival is your strategy and marketing your product, and you know, looking a mess,” she says, glancing at the overflowing shelves. For the record, it is not a mess, more a treasure trove of typography.
“I think looking a mess is an attraction,” Helen laughs. “I often say to people ‘oh, I apologise for the mess’ and they say ‘no, it’s just like home!’ And then I have the librarians who come in. They say ‘Oh sorry Helen, I’m tidying!’ and I say ‘Go right ahead!”
As the longest standing shopholder on Blues Point Road, the former corporate business woman is something of a local celebrity – although she’ll hate that moniker.
“People all know I’m Helen from the bookshop and they can’t imagine McMahons Point without it,” she says. “My nephew was a Wallaby for many years and he used to say to me ‘you know, Auntie Helen, people say to me ‘I don’t suppose you’re related to the lady who owns the bookshop? Her name’s Baxter?’ He reckons he gets asked more about Auntie Helen than I get asked about Al Baxter the Wallaby!”
Spring will see some exciting changes for Helen. “A big leap is happening,” she says with a knowing look. “It’s still under wraps…but we’re moving into the world of the digital age…it’s the biggest leap I’ve taken since I started the shop…”
So as Helen heads off to tend to another customer with a complex literary query, it’s certain the story of the Blues Point Bookshop is one that’s to be continued for many years to come…
Helen’s pick of the suburb
“There’s so much! There’s Wendy’s Garden, the Balls Head walk - which is beautiful - there’s the Coal Loader markets, there’s Mary MacKillop, there’s a beautiful walk around the Harbour Foreshores, there’s Sawmillers Reserve… what I love is the sense of community. It’s like a little village and there aren’t many places like it left in Sydney.”
Words: Anna Gordon Photos: Belinda Spillane