Wellington

Wellington

57 Willis Street
Wellington 6011
Ph. 04 499 4245
wellington@unitybooks.co.nz

Opening hours

Mon-Thurs 9am-6pm
Fri 9am-7pm
Sat 10am-5pm
Sun 10am-5pm

*Public Holidays may differ – please call

Photo

The Unity Books story – the start-up that aged happily – kicked off with book-loving, debate-hunger, and a strong will. Founder Alan Preston was a New Zealand rep sportsman, as well as a Philosophy, History and Accounts student who became the accounts manager at South’s Books.

With the support of his father Cyril he decided to open his own shop. He placed a small ad (in keeping with the smallness of the shop within the Oxford Uni Press showrooms) in the Dominion and Evening Post announcing a new bookshop opening on Willis St.

On 6 September 1967 while giving the books another tutu on the first day, the staff - Alan and his Dad and their friend Bob Dempsey - suddenly realised they were low on classics. Grabbing a trolley, Bob raced across the Wellington CBD to a warehouse supplier and came back laden and triumphant.

Then Unity Books grew. In the ‘70s, having made enough people happy and having moved enough books (of both the sober and radical persuasion) past the till, Unity Books moved to a bigger site on Willis St, next to Colin Morris Music.

The vibe was perfect. At the helm was Prue de Villiers, Jo Harris (now McColl) and author Nigel Cox. Alan was an accounts manager again, but with a busier floor to talk on. When that 12 year lease came up, a fatter and more radical Unity moved even further along Willis St to our 3rd site, Perrett’s corner, to the mega-glazed pink banana-shaped shop.

Photo

Meanwhile Jo and Nigel opened Unity Books Auckland. Lead vocals in Wellington were Louise Wrightson (now a poet), Marion Castree (NZ buyer still!) and Tilly Lloyd (a recovering Penguin rep). Backing vocals were (this is incomplete of course) a wide variety of authors, reviewers, academics, postmen and late hippies. There we began regular events with local and international authors and publishers and somehow kept morale during the long years of the long tail of the ’86 NZ stock-market crash.

In 1998, with several Writers and Readers festivals behind us, and notwithstanding that the staff and stock had morphed into even more radicalness, Alan agreed with then buyer Heather McKenzie to get closer to the ‘fire’ of Lambton Quay, so Unity Books moved back down Willis Street to our current site. 500 square metres seemed wildly ambitious but of course Wellington people flocked in and we did daily Olympic Gold in stock buying, reshelving, and the new frantic levels of nearly-always happy dialogue of bookselling.

So it was and so it is now, regardless of the WFC or the ebook or online imperialism (amazon in lower case please) or the shop flood. The street is withstanding. The city changes and recasts and rumbles the way beautiful cities do. And Unity’s stock and staff and public interface stayed gutsy and pleasing.

"Warm and knowledgeable bookselling service is the biggest thing;
laughter and community are crucial; a welcome atmosphere is everything."

Photo

As all booksellers attest, it’s only the daily traffic of enquiring people (well OK, also some of their dogs) which produces the thrum. The events calendar is running amok, the awards arrived, the flowers are artful, the speeches are short, and the wine from the publishers is plentiful (though rarely gold medal).

And the Unity armchairs are still the only armchairs in the CBD where any person can just sit and think in public without feeling any pressure that they must be industrious or buy a book. Even now with constant streaming and numbers, plenty of others are covering that for them. And deep down we all know that sooner or later the welcome sloucher will feel the call of a (for instance) tempting iwi history or Ottolenghi or Metallica bio.

Alan died in 2004 and Jo and Lawrie McColl and Tilly Lloyd took Unity on, merging Alan’s idiosyncratic mentorship with our own and the staff’s heart and bookaholism, and between us all we’ve kept Alan’s precepts alive and well: responsiveness is the thing; talking about books is a bigger thing; having galvanising stock is even bigger; warm and knowledgeable bookselling service is the biggest thing; laughter and community are crucial; a welcome atmosphere is everything.

Enjoy our space, it’s yours.

All the best as always

Tilly Lloyd

Unity Staff Picks

Unity Staff Picks

Discover a world of captivating reads handpicked by our knowledgeable staff.

Mistake
Mistake
Hard by the Cloud House
Hard by the Cloud House
Otherhood: Essays About Being Childless, Childfree & Child Adjacent
Otherhood: Essays About Being Childless, Childfree & Child Adjacent
Woman, Eating
Woman, Eating
Victory Park
Victory Park
In the Dream House
In the Dream House
Funny Story
Funny Story
Chain Gang All-Stars: A Novel
Chain Gang All-Stars: A Novel
Diary of an Invasion
Diary of an Invasion
Conversations with Friends ^
Conversations with Friends ^
Enlightenment
Enlightenment
Promised Party Kahlo, Basquiat & Me
Promised Party Kahlo, Basquiat & Me
Fight Night
Fight Night
Yellowface
Yellowface
Small Fires : An Epic in the Kitchen
Small Fires : An Epic in the Kitchen
Deltora Quest 21st Anniversary Edition
Deltora Quest 21st Anniversary Edition
Saltblood
Saltblood
Axeman's Carnival
Axeman's Carnival
Tress of the Emerald Sea
Tress of the Emerald Sea
Stone Blind: Medusa's Story
Stone Blind: Medusa's Story
Poukahangatus
Poukahangatus
When I Arrived at the Castle
When I Arrived at the Castle
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl
Ans Westra : A Life in Photography
Ans Westra : A Life in Photography
Seven Moons of Maali Almeida
Seven Moons of Maali Almeida
Escargot
Escargot
Pyre
Pyre
Passenger
Passenger
Camera Lucida
Camera Lucida
Shades of Grey
Shades of Grey
Priory of the Orange Tree
Priory of the Orange Tree
Landlines
Landlines
Wellington Architecture : A Walking Guide
Wellington Architecture : A Walking Guide
Story of Art Without Men
Story of Art Without Men
When We Cease to Understand the World
When We Cease to Understand the World
Overstory
Overstory
Man Called Ove
Man Called Ove
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow #1 Nevermoor Limited Collectors Edition
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow #1 Nevermoor Limited Collectors Edition
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
Visible Man
Visible Man
Books And Islands In Ojibwe Country : Travelling Through The Land Of My Ancestors
Books And Islands In Ojibwe Country : Travelling Through The Land Of My Ancestors
Earthlings
Earthlings
When I Open the Shop
When I Open the Shop
Dinosaurs
Dinosaurs
Old Ways : a Journey on Foot
Old Ways : a Journey on Foot
Birnam Wood
Birnam Wood

Visit us

57 Willis Street

Wellington 6011

Mon - Thurs9am - 6pm
Fri9am - 7pm
Sat10am - 5pm
Sun10am - 5pm

Send us a message