Beloved Sydney LGBT Bookstore ‘Bookshop Darlinghurst’ Has A New Owner

Beloved Sydney LGBT Bookstore ‘Bookshop Darlinghurst’ Has A New Owner
Image: Charles Gregory at The Bookshop Darlinghurst. Image: Supplied.

A “generational changing of the guard” has happened for the beloved Sydney LGBTQI+ book store The Bookshop Darlinghurst, with owner of 40+ years Les McDonald passing on the mantle and selling the store.

But don’t fret – the man who has taken over is someone with a true passion for queer literature, and deep ties to the store and its meaningful legacy in Sydney’s LGBTQI+ community.

Meet Charles Gregory. He worked at the Bookshop 15 years ago, which he says he “genuinely loved” – and he’s loved the store ever since.

He’s incredibly passionate about LGBTQI+ books and literature, and Bookshop Darlo is the place where he did a lot of reading and learning.

“Honestly, I think I was a really bad salesperson,” Charles laughs. “During night shifts I would just sit on that stool and read.”

“It was always a comforting, comforting thing for me, being in the store. As a reader and a lover of fiction, I loved being in a store where I knew that all the characters from my community were represented.

“And I know you don’t always have to read specifically queer stories or whatnot – but you do like to see characters that you can identify with or understand in the books you read.”

“Daunting” taking on such a beloved institution

Charles says that taking over a store with such an enormous legacy is a little intimidating, but says he’s excited and so, so proud to be the new owner of Bookshop Darlo.

“It’s a bit daunting, because I’ve seen how loved it is by so many people in the community, how much people respect it and believe in it and genuinely love having it there”.

“Les, having owned it for 42 years, was obviously, going to have to hand it on at some stage. And yeah, I just kind of fell into place and I just love it as an institution.

“Les wanted to pass on the store to the new generation, and it had to be someone. Why not me?”

Will The Bookshop Darlinghurst change?

Charles says to anyone who is concerned that Bookshop Darlo will drastically change – don’t stress.

While there’s plenty of exciting things Charles wants to start doing – such as small, intimate book readings, and collaborating with other LGBTQI+ org to present events in larger spaces – he’s also dedicated to keeping Bookshop Darlo the same place we’ve all always loved.

“There’s a lot of things about the store I really want to keep the same,” says Charles.

“Graeme, who is the book buyer is, has been with the Bookshop for 30 years, and he’s a vital part of the store and wants to continue on with me. And so is Noel and Paul, who have both worked there for 10, 15 years.”

Charles also wants to bring back the late opening hours on weekends and Thursday/Friday evenings, when the LGBTQI+ community are out and about and having fun on Oxford Street.

“It was also fun [working the evening shifts at Bookshop Darlo], because people were out and about, and would come in to browsen after they’d had a few drinks at a restaurant for dinner or a bar.

“That’s something I want to continue, as long as Oxford Street keeps improving, and there’s more foot traffic.”

Bookshop Darlinghurst has evolved with our community

Charles also says that he believes the reason the book shop has lasted so many years, is because it has evolved with the community – and that’s something he wants to continue to do.

“In past years the focus was very much gay and lesbian, of course, but times have changed since then, and the way younger generation identifies has changed,” explains Charles. “So I want to ensure that the store continuing to evolve with the community.”

“Right now there’s so much trans fiction by trans authors and non binary authors coming out. And I want to ensure that the store continues to kind of evolve with the community, as more of that kind of literature comes out.”

Bookshop Darlinghurst’s enormous legacy for LGBT Sydney

The seed for The Bookshop Darlinghurst was planted in the 1970s while founding owner Les McDonald was on a holiday with his then partner in the United States.

Seeing LGBTQI books advertised in the gay press, McDonald saw an untapped market in Australia.

On his return to Sydney, he started importing LGBTQI books and selling them via mail order.

Soon the business was getting too large to operate out of home so they set up a bookshop on Crown Street in Surry Hills and then to their current location on Oxford Street.

In the 1980s during the AIDS crisis, the Bookshop became a centre for information and community support as well as a safe space.

Ever since, Bookshop Darlinghurst has been a community hub, a safe space, a meeting point, a welcoming, central place for so many of us to learn about ourselves and each other through literature. It’s a book store, but it’s also so very much more to Sydney’s queer population.

“I want to offer a huge thank you to Les,” Charles wrote in an open letter to the community. “To run a bookstore, let alone one with a focus on queer literature, for more than four decades, is a major achievement.”

“Everyone I know, or have spoken to recently about the shop, has a story about it or thinks of it fondly. It’s been a mainstay of Sydney’s electric and ever-changing queer community.”

And thanks to Charles, Bookshop Darlo will continue to be a mainstay of Sydney’s queer community.

You can read Charles’ open letter to the all fans of The Bookshop Darlinghurst here.

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