Bookspot of the Week: The Mad Hatters Bookshop

For this week’s bookspot, we spoke with Laura Norris, the owner of The Mad Hatters Bookshop in Manly, QD.

Bookspot / Libraries

Welcome back to your favorite time of the week! For today’s bookspot, we spoke with Laura Norris, the owner of The Mad Hatters Bookshop in Manly, QD. With a fairytale mural, a yellow brick road winding through the store, and even Harry Potter parties (Yes, you heard me right!), this bookspot will make you feel like you just stepped into the pages of a storybook.

How did your bookstore transition from concept to reality?

I was hired by the original owner, Ann-Marie, not long after the store opened and I eventually took over from her. From the moment I walked in I knew this place was going to be a special place in my life. Ann-Marie is an illustrator and she designed the most welcoming, playful space from the fairytale mural and faux grass carpet in the kid’s corner to the winding yellow brick which begins at the entrance and brings you through the store. Two years ago, we renovated the craft room and created a Harry Potter room, complete with flying keys, potion bottles and the starry night ceiling of the Great Hall. 

In a lot of ways I feel like the store’s caretaker – I try to implement things that capture the original spirit and not stray too far from that. In the past year, we’ve hosted an Adopt-A-Yellow-Brick drive on Love Your Bookshop Day, and a Hero’s Quest-themed on Halloween, all keeping with the theme of the space, which has always been eclectic, adventurous and well-loved. 

via the mad hatters bookshop

What do you feel is unique to your bookstore?

Our store has a cool, old-fashioned feel to it – customers always tell us that they never see bookstores like this anymore. We have a lot of quirky decor which was made by hand. Last Halloween, we made a giant paper-mâche dragon’s head and a spiky tail coming out of a mountain where it roared at people walking past. It took a while to make so we ended up keeping the dragon head afterward – she’s now sitting on top of the fantasy section. 

If you had infinite space, what might you add to the store?

A revolving bookshelf that leads into a secret reading room. To enter the room, you would need to spin a globe the exact number of times in a counter-clockwise direction. 

via the mad hatters bookshop

How do you feel your bookstore fits into your local community/What about your store do you think appeals to your neighborhood?

We’re based in a bayside area called Manly Harbour Village and it really does have a village feel to it. Everyone is tight-knit but friendly. It’s the perfect place to buy a book and read by the water or one of the cafes and this lifestyle really lends itself to the charm of having a bookstore here. It’s a lovely community to be a part of. I like being able to walk to work, pick up a coffee and stop to chat with everyone on the way. 

What does your store offer that a chain or online retailer can’t?

There is a lot of work that goes into running a bookstore that isn’t always seen or appreciated. Sometimes they’re minor details like how we choose our books or where they sit on the shelves. But there is a whole sensory experience in visiting a physical bookstore that can’t be replicated online. You can touch and smell the books, you can chat to other people and make face-to-face connections. You can join a bookclub or workshop. Online retailers are built around being transactional but bookstores are community hubs. 

We personally put a lot of effort into making customer’s visits a memorable experience. We try to tailor our range of books to customers’ interests. And because we curate book lists for schools and businesses on sometimes sensitive issues, I think it’s important to have a human face attached to it. We’re also pretty good at deciphering strange requests: the blue book with the swan on the cover, the one about ‘the boy swallowing the world’. No special algorithm here. 

We also host book clubs, parties and events in-store. Our personal favourite is the Harry Potter party: we make things like wands, clay creature eggs, Mandrake pot plants (see image) and play all kinds of HP-related games. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has meant we’ve had to postpone parties but we’re looking forward to hosting more in 2021. 

via the mad hatters bookshop

Do you hand-pick your staff to create a specific environment?

There are six of us who work here and the common thread between us seems to be that we’re all a little bit weird, which goes with the theme of the store anyway! We all have different reading interests and strengths so we tend to cover the bases pretty well. We also have this tradition where we leave odd cartoons in the diary for the person working the next day, which always makes me laugh to see first thing in the morning. 

How else do you create a welcoming environment?

We’re often told our store has a nice atmosphere, which I think is due to a combination of the design of our space, our interactions with customers, and the type of products we stock. I think so much of it comes down to the little things as well: we always try to make sure we greet everyone who comes into the store. 

via the mad hatters bookshop

Do you have any staff picks or releases we should watch out for?

I recently read and loved Betty by Tiffany McDaniel (August 2020) which is a sweeping family saga set in the American Midwest during the 1960s. I’m looking forward to reading All Our Shimmering Skies by Trent Dalton (September 2020) and the last in Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet, Summer (August 2020). With kids’ books, I am dying to read Hollowpox, the newest book in Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series (September 2020). It’s been so exciting to see the buzz the series has been getting and I love how excited kids get about it.

Do you tailor your inventory according to your community?

Yes – we stock books that cater to our readership and we also tend to order seasonally as well. At the moment it’s winter in Australia so our cooking, food & drink section is filled with comfort food cookbooks and what I like to refer to as ‘aspirational’ baking books.

Is there anything else that you’d like our audience to know?

Reading is a way to feel less alone in the world, and if you keep an eye out you can find a nice community of book weirdos out there.

via the mad hatters bookshop

You can find The Mad Hatters Bookshop on Instagram @madhattersbookshop, Twitter @MadHattersBooks, and Mad Hatters Bookshop. Do you know of a book shop worthy of a spotlight on our site? Contact us through any of our socials and you may just find it here next week.

Featured image via the mad hatters bookshop