Cosy den for foxy ladies – Bookshop celebrates 20 years


An Auckland family who adopted Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct have seen off the naysayers.
Mother and daughter Jenny Lynch-Blosse and Kahren Thompson have celebrated the 20th birthday of their shop, Slightly Foxed Secondhand Books.
People were astonished they wanted to set it up in a draughty old precinct building, but the pair were never tempted by the suggestion to move to the town centre.
Ms Thompson arrived in Oamaru with her then-husband, Michael O’Brien, and their baby daughter, Gamel.
They had been entranced by a University of Auckland exhibition of black-and-white photos of historic Oamaru buildings taken by the late Ian Smith.
Mr O’Brien was keen to move here but Ms Thompson, who had only ever lived in Auckland and London, said “it sounded like Hicksville to me”. When she visited on a southern “tiki tour”, she “instantly liked it”.
Mr O’Brien chose 7 Tyne St as the site for his bookbindery, which he opened on Gamel’s first birthday _ March 27, 1994.
Mrs Lynch-Blosse and her late husband, Gerald, joined them in Oamaru, then Mr O’Brien’s birth mother, Marie Grunke, and his adoptive mother, Mary O’Brien, moved down from Auckland and Whangarei respectively.
With the family ensconced, Ms Thompson and her mother looked into opening a bookshop. Although the vacant buildings in the precinct were “very large, with no heating”, they settled on 11 Tyne St.
They scrubbed the floorboards and scraped the Oamaru stone walls. Mr Lynch-Blosse built the entrance foyer, partition, and mezzanine floor. The huge wooden counter came from the old post office; chairs and couches created reading nooks by the windows.
The name of the shop refers to the brown spots that discolour old books. A sign depicting a literary fox was hung over the doorway and the shop opened on December 16, 1995.
The proprietors, wearing Victorian outfits made by Dunedin costumier Joy Hanson, were so cold in winter they added fingerless gloves and shawls. Gradually, a ceiling, wood-burning stove, and heat pumps were installed.
All sales are written up in a ledger with a fountain pen, then the books are wrapped in brown paper tied with string.
Ms Thompson said she has learned what will sell.
“I used to lurch between thinking there was not enough stock and thinking there were not enough customers.”She has become used to stock levels dwindling in autumn, then being replenished after the winter book fairs. Spring-cleaning also resulted in people making book collections available.
About 80% of customers were visitors, not locals.
“Of that 80%, half are New Zealanders and half are tourists.”Ms Thompson often gets asked if the books are for sale.
“Others come in and their eyes light up. They bring up a little pile to the counter.”A popular addition to the shop was the “Alice house” that children can play in. It was painted in 2001 by American artist Gregory Hartman, who exchanged his skills for bed and board.
The shop is open every day. Ms Thompson and Mrs Lynch-Blosse did not take wages for the first couple of years, and again during the 2013 downturn, but mostly the business has been “quite viable”.
Mrs Lynch-Blosse retired at the end of last year, having enjoyed the 20th birthday party.

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