LES McDonald was on holiday in the US in the 1970s when he discovered a business opportunity, which almost 40 years later has become an iconic fixture in Sydney’s LGBTI community.
“My partner at the time and I were touring America and we noticed there were gay and lesbian books being advertised in the gay press,” he told the Star Observer.
Upon returning home, McDonald and his partner began importing LGBTI books and selling them in a mail-order service.
When the business figuratively began taking over their home, they set up shop on Crown St, Surry Hills. After a couple of moves McDonald ended up in his current location on Oxford St — a stone’s throw away from Taylor Square.
Now, after 34 years of owning and running The Bookshop Darlinghurst, McDonald has decided it is time to hand over the reins and sell the business.
“I’ve done it for a heck of a long time and I’m just tired,” he said.
“I’d love to see a younger person or a couple come in and take it through the next decades or so. I want them to inject a bit of life into it and tart the place up and put their own stamp on it.
“I’m not going to sell it to someone who will wreck it, I want someone with integrity.”
McDonald opened The Bookshop Darlinghurst in 1982 when homosexuality was still illegal in NSW. It soon became an institution for LGBTI people in Sydney and is still one of the last remaining LGBTI-centric bookstores in Australia and around the world.
The business is still going strong today and stocks LGBTI-centric or mainstream publications and products that other places would not have.
“I think the shop’s still necessary because we stock in the shop a lot of backlist stuff that a lot of people don’t stock and we have book that not a lot of other places do,” McDonald said.
“Ebook sales have now plateaued, print book sales are on the rise, and specialist bookshops are not merely surviving, but thriving.
“There will always be a strong market for a business that knows its particular niche as comprehensively as we do at The Bookshop Darlinghurst.
“But we’ve also become more than just a bookshop for LGBTI people. We’re a community hub and a safe space for people as well and that is something a new owner might want to expand on.”
McDonald finds it hard to narrow down one or two highlights of his three-decade career as a bookshop owner — which includes celebrity visits and daring exhibitions — but it’s the community recognition that he would be most proud of when he hangs up his hat.
“It’s always great to be recognised by your peers. Back in the 80s when Mardi Gras had their awards night, we were awarded the Community Award and won the ACON honour award,” he said.
“Those moments stand out.”