Birthday parties are always special, but how often do you get invited to a birthday party for a bookshop?
Twenty years ago, two people with little or no knowledge of bookselling opened up a small shop on a back alleyway in the Kilbirnie shopping centre and at the end of that day were part relieved, part exhilarated to realise they had made $250 worth of sales. Last night, a big and convivial crowd gathered in the shop (a bigger one, but still in the same alleyway) to help John and Ruth McIntyre celebrate the 20th birthday of the wonderful Children's Bookshop.
The bookshop was looking as fabulous as ever, with posters around the walls - reaching almost to the ceiling - and enticing book displays, set off by big bunches of congratulatory flowers on the counter. And the crowd inside reflected the wide range of people who value this bookshop so highly, including many local authors, illustrators and storytellers, other booksellers, school librarians and teachers, publishers' reps and staff, both past and present.
Annette King, who is a "neighbour" as well as local MP (her electorate office is right next door) began the speeches with a heartfelt tribute to all John and Ruth's hard work and their many awards and achievements over the last 20 years. She quoted from the article in the Dominion Post, describing them as "unsung heroes of Wellington", and said how true that was, but that we were there today to sing their praises. She also commented that whenever people weren't sure how to find her office, she simply had to say it was "next to The Children's Bookshop" and they would immediately be able to locate it.
Heidi talked on behalf of the staff, telling Ruth and John how wonderful they were to work for, and read out warm messages from others who couldn't be there, including David Hill and Diana Neild. Julia Marshall described the advice she'd been given by John when she was considering starting up Gecko Press, and pointed out how many other people have benefited from their helpful and wise suggestions. One of the publishers' reps described the bookshop as a "haven" in their busy day, and one of their favourite places to visit (especially at morning tea time!)
But the star turn was undoubtedly Kate McIntyre, who has grown up with the shop - as she pointed out, it is only a few months older than she is. She told us that she'd only scribbled down a few notes an hour earlier, but she kept the audience captivated as she talked about what it had meant to her growing up with the bookshop as a second home, meeting world- famous authors, giving advice to book-buying customers as an eight-year-old and hanging out with the staff until she started proper "work" there at the age of about 15.
Finally John said a few words, and then there there was more wine and juice and deliveries of pizza, and lots more talk and a buzz of congratulations and admiration.
It was a great evening and a well-deserved celebration, with several themes that came through most of the speeches. One was the quality of the staff whom John and Ruth have chosen and mentored, and how much they contribute to the bookshop's success, with their own wide reading enabling them to give valuable and reliable recommendations to customers trying to choose the right book.
Another theme that emerged was is that it is all very well to set out to follow your dream, but a dream involves a lot of hard work and determination to make it succeed, and that's what Ruth and John have in bucketfuls.
So if you haven't been there for a while, make a visit and buy a book to celebrate their success and to wish them well for the next 20 years!