Turning Page seeks new custodians

The stewardship of Springwood's much loved independent bookstore is still up for grabs - some nine months after the owners announced it was time to quit.

Annie Sharkey and Alan Crooks had hoped to retire after Christmas with new custodians taking on the thriving community institution that is The Turning Page. They put it on the market with a selling price of about $370,000 and waited for an offer.

But despite considerable interest, their most serious contender - an "out-of-towner" - backed out in February, and an idea was born to float it on a kind of community stock market as a co-operative.

The owners have suggested about 4000 members might need to put in $100 per share. When the couple first floated the idea, 110 people left their names in the shop to be involved and their Facebook post garnered 10,000 views. There are 13,000 customers in the store's loyalty program who they hope may be interested in shares.

It's a very "egalitarian" Australian idea, said Ms Sharkey, which has been around in this country since the 1850s. Bowling clubs, pubs, cabs and farmers co-ops make up an estimated 1700 co-operatives in the nation and local examples include Lyttleton Stores in Lawson and the Blue Mountains Food Co-op in Katoomba.

Blaxland dance studio manager Charlee Mann has put her hand up with about 16 others to look into the process of forming a co-op. Their fledgling committee met recently over a Zoom meeting and is now studying the financials, to see whether they will be able to raise the capital to make the owners an offer.

Mrs Mann said the interim steering committee's first zoom meeting "was really good". Even though most of them did not know each other, they all had a shared love for the shop.

"It's a lovely strong group of people, everyone is passionate about books and The Turning Page, there's a lot of enthusiasm, she said.

Mrs Mann said they are "on a very steep learning curve".

"We do have people with some strong business skills and we are reaching out to the other co-operatives in the Mountains to draw on some of their knowledge and experience," she said.

"Everyone is very keen to do our due diligence, we want the bookshop to remain in Springwood, that is the overarching feeling. I feel like their [Annie and Alan's] heart and soul is in this shop ... and I want to honour that. I really see the value in having it in our community run by people in our community."

The pair said they will take a fair and reasonable offer. "We want it to work," Ms Sharkey said.

The Turning Page has been central to the community for 36 years and has traded through COVID-19 with record sales. On Mother's Day they "nearly doubled" trade on the same period in 2019. They were "quite shocked" by the support.

Ms Sharkey puts their popularity down to need, because people "can't look at screens all day" and the desire to have a safe conversation outside their home.

"People come in and tell you how they are feeling, have a conversation, which you can't really do in IGA."

Mr Crooks said he hoped "one of the side things to come out of the pandemic, will mean people will obviously start respecting their community much more and valuing it a lot more ... so it could be a trigger for a lot more people to ask how to get more involved [in things like co-ops] in keeping this a vibrant community."

Those interested in The Turning Page can contact annie_and_alan@theturningpagebookshop.com.au or the new steering committee at turningpagecoop@gmail.com.