“Greville Street is the most insubstantial bookshop in Melbourne,” says Jurate Sasnaitis who has been artfully stacking shelves in her locally celebrated store for 16 years. “I started by thinking, I can’t be a poor artist forever, and so I had a masterstroke – set up a small independent bookshop...”
Sarcasm aside, the site at 145 Greville Street has become a mecca for a specific clientele keen on hallucinogen-spiked stream-of-consciousness and design books that define the market between the cutting-edge and the coffee table. “When we started there was an Odyssey House[drug rehab centre] down the road, so books by Bukowski, Burroughs and Hunter S Thompson flew out of the shop, literally, as they were all stolen.”
Fortunately for Jurate’s bottom line, the students of Swinburne University’s nearby design school are more law-abiding. Their purchases help maintain the shop’s artistic heritage and they provide an unofficial focus group for the well-edited, eclectic shelf stock. “We’ve known a lot of our customers since they were babies at design school. Now they have their own firms and are full of advice on what’s cool and what will be – my buying policy is simply paying attention to people.”
With half the store split into literature and music, and the other a magpie’s swag-bag on fine art, street art, graphic design, industrial design, fashion design, typography and architecture, there’s no room for the prosaic. Even the travel and cookery books are vetted according to aesthetics. “We don’t have anything that tells you how to make anything or do anything,” says Jurate. “We’re the epitome of useless.” This anti-practical stance still seems to pay dividends: the Greville Street bookshop sells more $AU100 (€60) books than anything else. As Jurate sums it up, “I love all my customers, but the ones who tell me they have $150 to spend on a gift for someone that doesn’t read make me smile the most.
Greville Street Bookstore, 145 Greville Street, Prahran, Victoria; + 61 (0)3 9510 3531
Greville Street Bookstore’s top publishers:
01 Die Gestalten Verlag, Germany, for its great graphics and illustration books.
02 Birkhäuser, Switzerland, for the classic European design of its books.
03 Phaidon, Britain, for innovation in design.
04 Victionary, Hong Kong, for its extraordinary packaging.
05 Skira, Italy, for exquisite printing quality.