For the Love of Reading: The Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop

Photography: Daniela Rey

Reading is so important for our children. Reading to them as babies, then teaching them to read themselves, and eventually them reading for pleasure, hopefully all their lives. Research suggests positive long-term outcomes from reading aloud to babies as young as six months old. That’s right: reading to your baby leads to stronger vocabulary and better literacy skills later on. There are so many incredible books out there, and sisters Helen and Mary Wadsworth will know just the right book for you. They are co-owners of the Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop in Ponsonby, Auckland.

Helen and Mary Wadsworth

The passion: What inspired you to set up your business?

We love books and reading! We grew up in a family where reading was valued and books were plentiful. Trips to the library were a regular event. We both know how much this has enriched our lives and our passion is sharing our love of stories and books with children.

The Launch: How did you start out in the beginning?

We had both reached a stage in our careers where it was time for a change. Our local suburban bookshop came up for sale and we thought – why not? This was our launchpad into the bookselling business. It was quite a change for an engineer and a language teacher. Two years down the track we heard that the famous Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop was on the market. We were both really excited at the possibilities that purchasing this business could offer.

The innovation: What was the biggest breakthrough for you with your business?

Before we purchased it the Dorothy Butler Bookshop was in a bit of a holding pattern. The previous owners were not based in Auckland and for various reasons there had not been much focus on keeping the Dorothy Butler brand at the forefront of children’s bookselling. The breakthrough that we’ve initiated since we took over has been in revitalizing the shop with rebranding, a regular programme of events, newsletters, social media presence and becoming more involved in our community.

Yin and Yang: How do you balance work and family?

This is always tricky no matter what work you do. We are lucky because there are two of us and we have great staff so we can usually work something out when it comes to taking time out for school holidays, sick kids or that all important school event that we’ve been begged to go to. We also have one day off a week each to try and make sure the domestic chaos is kept under control. When you own your own business there is always more to do so we need to keep reminding ourselves of the things that can wait until next week or next month.

The Drive: What challenges have you overcome?

The challenges have been many – from staff changes to cashflow to one of us dealing with a major health issue. So far we have survived these and many other challenges.

For better or worse: What are the pros and cons of running your own business?

When you are working in a business that you own and doing something you love it doesn’t really feel like work. This has to be one of the best things about running your own business. Other positives are just being your own boss and seeing the changes you make having an impact. The main negative is the financial insecurity and because we are in a retail business, the relentlessness of a seven day a week operation.

Hopes and dreams: What next?

We still feel we have heaps to do to get the business to where we want it. We’d like to improve the shop interior, increase our online presence, have more book centred events and workshops and do more to involve the community around us. After that who knows?

If you are in Auckland, head to 1 Jervois Road, Ponsonby to visit the Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop in person, otherwise head to their website:

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