Behind the Shelves with Megalong Books
In a 100-year-old building a Blue Mountains bookshop works to serve locals and visitors alike.
An hour and a half by train or car from central Sydney, the Blue Mountains have become a favoured destination for people wanting a convenient place to get away from it all – either for a relaxing long weekend or more permanently.
Roughly a thousand metres above sea level, the small town of Leura has a resident population of less than 5,000 but the closeness to Katoomba, the biggest town in the Blue Mountains, gives Leura’s independent bookshop, Megalong Books, a catchment three times the size.
Jodie Dalglish owns Megalong Books, situated on the picturesque Leura Mall and, along with many of their neighbours, the building they are in is over one hundred years old.
“We are a very traditional looking shop with sliding ladders and cosy corners,” says Jodie. “Our shop is fairly small, and we have filled it with bookshelves on every available surface.”
As well as providing a rich offering to general readers, Megalong Books also recognises the history of the region with a large section dedicated to titles about Leura and the Blue Mountains.
“We have something for everyone,” says Jodie. “We pride ourselves on having a large range of adult and kids books – both fiction and non-fiction – with a large range of local history books as well. We have a great local population of readers and we also have a lot of customers who are visitors to the mountains.”
Jodie has worked at Megalong Books for 17 years and has owned the business for seven of those years: “Tom and Wendy Whitton opened the shop in a different location and expanded it to our current larger location in Leura,” she says.
Jodie says books have always been a part of her life: “I have always been a reader and have always loved escaping into a story.”
Like many independent bookshops, recent years have been challenging but even before the Covid pandemic, Blue Mountains businesses were coping with a natural disaster of their own. The bushfires of late-2019 and early-2020 devastated large areas of the mountains – it is estimated that 60 percent of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area was fire affected, more than half considered to be high or very high severity. The threat of fires engulfing residential areas was very real.
“We were greatly affected by the 2019 fires which was closely followed by the pandemic,” Jodie relates. “Luckily, we have a very supportive community and managed to keep trading and keep all of our staff employed.”
As the lockdowns eased and local travel became more common, Jodie has seen a change in the makeup of her customers: “After the pandemic, we started to see more visitors who had discovered the Blue Mountains when there were travel restrictions. We have added to our range to suit some of their interests as well.”
Jodie says that the beauty of the Blue Mountains remains intact despite the fire damage, and it has become an even more popular destination for visitors: “We are in a beautiful small town – voted by travel writers as one of ‘the most irresistible, exotic, historic and postcard-worthy small towns in Australia’ – surrounded by National Parks and waterfalls.”
Clearly still in love with the bookselling business, Jodie is looking forward to a strong 2024: “We have had a lot less author events over the last few years, but we will be having a lot more this year. We are always involved in the Blue Mountains Writer’s festival which is loved by our local community and visitors alike.”
When we asked her if she learned any lessons from her years of bookselling Jodie told us that she is most proud of her team: “Your staff are your most valuable asset. Having worked in various bookshops over the years I know how I would like to be treated and valued and I try to show my staff that I appreciate them whenever I can.”
On a personal level, Jodie’s enthusiasm for books and bookselling is, perhaps, even greater than it has ever been.
“I expected to enjoy running the bookshop but I have loved it much more than I expected to. It is a wonderful industry to work in,” she says. “2024 will be a great year. We are planning some great events and we have an amazing team working here so I am sure it will be fun.”