Mary Coin at the Good Earth Bookshop
Story and photographs by Liz Durnan
Founder of Good Earth Bookshop Mary Coin talks about the importance of community connection and the enduring power of books.
“Wherever I go, bookstores are still the closest thing to a town square.” – Gloria Steinem
How good would it be if today’s town square was not Facebook or Twitter, but our local bookshop?
There’s an inviting ambience at Good Earth Bookshop in the heart of Wentworth Falls village. It has a treasure trove of reclaimed chairs and desks, vintage typewriters, communal sewing machines and of course, its carefully curated selection of books to suit all kinds of readers.
A treasure trove of vintage, reclaimed and pre-loved!
There’s a co-working space here where people can rent a comfortable workstation for the day, a corner for children to be entranced by a story, and a workshop where the local community holds book clubs and a ‘Make and Mend’ circle each week.
Something for everyone at the Good Earth Bookshop!
Founder and owner Mary Coin is a former teacher and passionate book lover who initially opened an online second-hand bookstore during the pandemic, “just for fun.”
It became more than just fun though. The community embraced it so much that she opened a trial pop-up shop in the school holidays.
“At the end of the five weeks, it felt so good,” Mary says, “and the community was really positive about me being there.”
So positive that she outgrew the original space, and moved to larger premises where she has continued to thrive for over a year.
While the bookstore specialises in environmental fiction and non-fiction, there are all kinds of books.
In keeping with the theme, the majority of Good Earth’s stock is second-hand, and this is an important aspect for Mary.
“I see my job as salvaging really good books and presenting them beautifully. I have a huge range of pre-loved books and I encourage people to think of books not as a throwaway item, but one that you can read again and again and share.”
Books are salvaged and pre-loved
Every piece of furniture is recycled too: second-hand or salvaged shelving, cupboards, desks, chairs. Nothing is new.
“You don’t need to spend a lot of money to fit out a shop. That way it looks so much more fun and interesting and eclectic too.”
For Mary, the sense of community her bookshop provides is another important aspect of her vision. The co-work space has an abundance of natural light, WiFi and comfortable chairs. At $18 a day, it’s pretty affordable. Co-working has an environmental upside too, pooling resources and potentially helping people to avoid a commute .
A co-working space with an abundance of natural light
The Make and Mend Circle is an informal drop-in group once a week (Tuesday 10-11am), where people can make or mend their own things.
“People can bring their projects – crochet or knitting or whatever they’re working on and just sit and have a cup of tea and talk to other people who are doing the same thing.”
There are informal book clubs to engage people to read and socialise, while Story Time for kids (0-5) is every Thursday during school terms. Mary says this helped to connect those young families who had moved to the Blue Mountains during the pandemic.
Another regular club to meet monthly at Good Earth is the Blue Mountains Zine Club. Mary keeps a large selection of locally made zines on display, and for sale.
A meeting place for the Blue Mountains Zine Club
“That’s a whole creative subculture that’s snowballed out of anything I imagined it would be, to the point that we’re having a zine fair at the Cultural Centre.”
Many of these things are free or donation only. It’s the power of connection that’s crucial for Mary: “I recently attended the Blue Mountains Resilience Project where they had a speaker who had been involved with disaster recovery, including Hurricane Katrina.
“He said the thing that helps people recover isn’t necessarily money. It’s people connecting. I feel strongly about that.”
It’s testament to Mary’s passion that Good Earth has thrived when so many bookstores are closing around Australia and globally. According to Mary, Blue Mountains bookshops are bucking that trend with so many independent businesses putting the Blue Mountains on the map as a bookstore destination.
To promote this, Mary commissioned a local graphic designer to create a map showing the Blue Mountains Bookshop Trail. This makes it easier for people to plan their visits to all the Mountains’ bookstores.
Blue Mountains Bookshop Trail Map
“I knew that there were bookshop trails overseas and I knew it would be great for the Blue Mountains. For tourists and visitors to know that there are so many bookshops and we’re all so different.
“It also means that all these booksellers who didn’t know each other, suddenly we’re collaborating. We’re working together. We’re communicating. If I don’t have a book in stock, I can call one of the others. The camaraderie has really built up which is lovely.”
Mary doesn’t see herself as competing with the big retailers and their heavy discounting. She takes pride in consciously curating all the books herself: “I focus on really good quality reading and encouraging people to read good literature. I am very, very careful about what I put on the shelves.”
Running a bookshop involves providing this invaluable recommendation service, something Mary honed in her years as a teacher. She likes to tailor recommendations to the individual – their interests, age, their budget.
“People love the nostalgia of books. People come in and buy books from their childhood,” Mary says. “There’s a woman in her 80s who comes in and buys all kinds of things, like Enid Blyton and Milly Molly Mandy.”
Mary is not concerned that digital books will ever take over the real thing:
“Nothing is ever going to change the fact that we’re tangible beings. Touching a book, smelling a book, carrying a book, having the actual beautiful physical book in our hands, that cannot ever be replicated digitally.”
If every town had a place like Good Earth, then bookshops could certainly be the town squares of our future.
Good Earth Bookshop is at Renae’s Arcade, Station Street, Wentworth Falls, 10am-5pm Tuesday-Sunday
Find out more: www.goodearthbookshop.com
The Blue Mountains Bookshop Trail:
This story has been produced as part of a Bioregional Collaboration for Planetary Health and is supported by the Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (DRRF). The DRRF is jointly funded by the Australian and New South Wales governments.