Fifty years of age is prime time for a midlife crisis but instead of turning angst into odd behaviour, Balmain’s independent bookshop underwent a glow-up.
Starting a Balmain Book Store for the Community
The shop formerly known as Brays Books opened in Darling Street in 1969 and stayed in the Brays family for a couple of generations. In 2019, Daniel Jordon and Claire Gorman purchased the business with a long-term goal in mind: to make it a community space. Roaring Stories is the result.
Far from being naïve dreamers, Jordon says they deliberately sought the store because of its independence and its relationship with the neighbourhood. “From a retail perspective, one of the strongest elements of a vibrant community is for the high street to have a vibrant independent bookstore, and we saw that,” he explains. “While the bookshop had a wonderful heritage, we could also see there were opportunities for us to bring in new initiatives. A bookstore is not just a retail business but is genuinely contributing to the social fabric or the cultural fabric of the community. And that really goes to the core of what we do.”
Before Roaring Stories, Jordon “had various roles in and out of the book industry both in retail and on the publishing side”, plus worked for the commercial arm of the ABC, which gave him a perspective that encompasses both the arts and culture side and the retail business view.
While he doesn’t live in Balmain, he has family in the area and knew the people here would understand their vision. “Balmain is a unique community, not only in Sydney, but I think it's unique in Australia. I think there's a greater appreciation for independent businesses that are vibrant and different as opposed to chains that are everywhere,” he notes.
The shop underwent some significant changes: a rebrand to Roaring Stories, an improved store design and layout, and an overhaul of the stock mix and range. But there was one element the pair didn’t want to change – the people. “The main thing we retained were the staff – one member's been there for nearly 25 years,” Jordon remarks. “There's that sense of continuity and deep personal relationships between staff and the community.”
These team members, most of whom are voracious readers with broad interests, often have a say in the books they bring in, which in turn has a connection to what does well in the store. And you may also have noticed a fresh website and the Roaring Stories events program, which regularly sells out.
Roaring Stories Events
Events are core to community engagement and exemplify the interpersonal aspects of what the pair are building in Balmain. One memorable evening was when author Heather Rose came to Balmain to talk about her memoir, Nothing Bad Ever Happens Here, with ABC Radio National’s Kate Evans, Jordon recounts.
“She's a very highly credentialled, well-established author, but the powerful nature of the conversation that she had with the host interviewer was quite possibly one of the most powerful exchanges with an author that I've ever witnessed. The impact that it had on the audience that night was quite profound. It was very special.”
While running a bookshop has been challenging – not least since their first few years were interrupted with Covid lockdowns and they’re now contending with economic uncertainty as they cross their fingers for a strong gift-giving season – Jordon confirms there have been plenty of moments to celebrate.
“It's a very creative thing to run a bookstore. We put a lot of effort and attention and focus on how we're curating the range, how we bring authors into the community, run an events program.
We're very cognisant of the role that this bookshop has played in the community for such a long period of time under the one owner; we're very mindful of the foundations, and what we've sought to do is try and build on that and improve the bookshop – not to take away from what is already established,” he says. “The most rewarding thing is connection to community and being valued by the community.”
Favourite Spots Around Balmain
If you’re planning a day out in Balmain, Daniel Jordon of Roaring Stories Bookshop says you can’t go wrong with a morning dip. “I think an absolute must start of the day would be a swim at Dawn Fraser pool. I'd suggest also then having breakfast at Bertoni and just watch the world go by.”
Later on, pop in at the Royal Oak “who do a great pub lunch” and “wind up the afternoon down at White Bay brewery,” he recommends.
Dawn Fraser Baths, Elkington Park Balmain
Bertoni, 281 Darling Street, Balmain
Royal Oak, 36 College Street, Balmain
White Bay Beer Co, 26C Mansfield St, Rozelle
Roaring Stories is located at 268 Darling Street, Balmain. Website here.