Our People

Meet Dave Cameron

Owner of Scorpio Bookstore

Dave has been at the helm of Scorpio Books for almost 50 years. When he first bought the shop back in the 70s (then called Pisces Books), it was a tiny little place with mostly esoteric titles and (gasp) vegetarian cookbooks!

Over the years, it has grown to become Ōtautahi Christchurch’s biggest independent bookshop, with a wide-ranging collection of quality books. With the help of a great team and a wonderful community of readers, the shop has grown significantly over the years, and now has a dedicated children’s bookshop, Telling Tales, and a travel bookshop, Scorpio Books Next Door, for locals and visitors alike.

Dave has enjoyed watching the shop become a hub for local literary life over the years. His partner (in business and in life) Jo Hewitson loves the events hosted in the shop. ‘We host launches and signings, in-conversation events, a monthly book club – and they’re open to all. You meet different people every time, and it’s fascinating to hear authors talk about their work and the writing process. It adds a whole other dimension to your reading – a connection.’

How did you become so interested – passionate, even – about books and reading that you wanted to open a bookshop?

In 1965 I was working at the University Book Shop in Dunedin after school. After realising quite quickly that this was what I wanted to do, I left school and began my bookselling career fulltime. 

It never occurred to me that I might want to open my own shop until around 1974 when, as acting manager the interference from the owners became intolerable and certain reps made the suggestion that Christchurch would be a good place to open a shop.

So, how did you do it and what were some of the challenges you faced along the way?

That’s when it got really hard. I made my move to Christchurch but found straight away that landlords were not interested in young men who hadn’t been in business on their own account before. My experience counted for nothing and after a few discouraging months, I ended up working for David Ault at UBS Canterbury doing textbook ordering. After a year or two, my wife heard on the grapevine (her hairdresser) that a very small but iconic bookshop (Pisces) was for sale.

If I’d known all the travails that lay in the future my despair would have got the better of me. Fortunately, most of the challenges arrived more or less one at a time. It was clear that in order to make a living I would need a larger shop with a more central location. There were a number of independents in the CBD - Gordon Tait, Dormans, Technical Books, The Women’s Bookshop plus, of course, Whitcoulls, London Bookshop and probably a few I’ve now forgotten - but as a more esoteric/new age specialist that didn’t seem to matter.

I lost my wife in 1979, which was a huge blow, but I immersed myself in work. The shop gradually grew in scope and in square footage. The adjacent shops closed and each time our size increased. By then I felt I had a proper bookshop. Technology reared its ugly head as microfiche displaced Books in Print followed by computerisation around 1988. Then our lease came to an end, and when the landlord kicked off negotiations with, “What are you offering?”, I went scurrying in search of new premises. We found a lovely site just around the corner and we prospered for a while. Then came Amazon, then came Borders, which seemed to herald a decline, but who would have thought - with a totally new eftpos system - fortune would began to smile again? Some 50,000 earthquakes later, and we’re still smiling, except I’m suddenly an old man.

My partner, Jo, now a seasoned bookseller, carries much of the weight, as do our wonderful staff. The shop has never been in better health - and there’s possibly an exciting new venture in the works, so stay tuned!

What do you enjoy about it most?

Ordering books I suppose and riding to work on my motorcycle.

Can you tell me about some of the strangest or most difficult enquiries you have had to deal with?

Artist Bill Sutton ordered a number of extremely expensive facsimile illuminated volumes published in Switzerland in extremely small numbers. I believe he donated them all to the University Library where I’m sure they are very securely housed.

Not so long ago, there was much talk about the “death of the book” and, along with it, bookshops themselves but this hasn’t happened. What’s your theory on why this is?

Sometimes new technologies arouse so much awe and wonder that people’s judgements and predictions are deeply flawed. For example, when CD-Roms were developed the technologists went to the publishers and convinced them that they had the content and that books could be transformed by the visual/interactive content which would enhance books. The Pearson Group lost around 400 million when they invested in the imagined future. I no longer remember the currency. I did see a photograph in the Bookseller of a section for CD-ROM books in a Scottish bookshop. There was a sterile-looking series of booths with nary a book in sight. Up till then, I had been talked into ordering several titles of this new breed. I never ordered another.

Mind you I never thought Amazon would make it. They were spending up to US$20 million a year on software development and losing money hand over fist. However, people’s imaginations reflected in their stock valuation, meaning they had huge borrowing power and the rest is history.

With thanks to: Kete - New books from Aotearoa


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