Wellington Scoop

Happy birthday to Unity

Photo: BennettnSlater

by Lindsay Shelton
The Paramount is closing after 100 years, the trolley buses are being pulled off the roads after almost 70 years, but not everything in Wellington is changing for the worse. Let’s congratulate Unity Books on launching into its second fifty years in Willis Street.

Wellington’s famed independent bookshop last night celebrated its first fifty years, with a crowded house of customers and friends and colleagues and (past and present) staff.

Publisher Fergus Barrowman spoke of his long love affair with the shop, and remembered the first books that he bought as a teenager.

Co-owner Tilly Lloyd led a series of toasts as she thanked so many people who had contributed to the long life of the shop. But Unity Books, she says, “isn’t merely a shop. People spend time here with innumerable agendas, and the armchairs, floors and tables are always busy.”


Everyone spoke warmly of Alan Preston, the founder of Unity Books, who ran the shop for 37 years and who was remembered by Nigel Cox for his “weird philanthropic generosity … who allowed the staff to do strange things with his foot on the accelerator and the brake at the same time.”

Everyone remembered Wellington’s other great bookshops – most notably Parsons. They are all now gone, while Unity has survived.

There were two birthday cakes.

There was even a book – published to mark the anniversary. Its contents are extracts from work written by past staff members: after a day’s work shelving and bookselling, the authors went home and wrote prose and poetry that was as good as the best writing they’d ever sold.

Introducing the book, Tilly says:

“We aspire to be as edgy and warm and relevant as the stock; getting the right books into the right hands is still an art form….We are practising optimists and our regard for the bracingly wide catchment of people, groups and businesses who make the shop traffic amplifies with the years.”


Many more happy returns to Tilly and Jo and Lawrie and everyone at Unity Books.

1 comment:

  1. Neil Douglas, 13. September 2017, 9:32

    Well said Lindsay, a very well deserved ‘happy birthday’ to Unity Books, a Wellington gem that adds sparkle our lives. Long may Unity continue to shine brightly.

    I do miss Parsons which had an amazing classic and jazz CD collection and the 1960s style cafe upstairs and I miss Capital Bookshop on Featherston Street. So often you don’t miss things until they’re gone. Shortly our trolley buses that run past Unity will be gone courtesy of GWRC. I’ll miss these quiet and sedate buses that have been part of Wellington’s streetscape for so long.