Local Heroes: Readings (Mark Rubbo)
Readings has been synonymous with books and reading culture in Melbourne for over 50 years. And it has developed a strong presence amongst locals in St Kilda’s Acland Street precinct.
We spoke to our newest Local Hero, long-time Managing Director Mark Rubbo, about the Readings store, plus some of his St Kilda hotspots and hopes for the area.
Tell us about where your passion for books came from
“My parents were readers so there were always books around the house and they were given as gifts for Christmas and birthdays. A colleague of my father’s also used to send me books at regular intervals and I was always very excited to get those parcels.
We’ve tried to recreate this by starting a subscription service whereby people can have books sent to special people in their lives every month.”
You originally opened a record store called Professor Longhairs; how did you eventually get to Readings?
“Readings was owned by Ross Reading, his wife Dorothy and Peter Reid. Professor Longhairs was just up the road and as neighbours we became quite friendly. One day Ross and Dorothy came to see me and said they were moving to the country and would we like to buy Readings.
My business partners, Steve Smith and Greg Young, and I said yes immediately. I’d always loved Readings and what Ross, Dot and Peter had created, and I loved books, so it was an exciting move.”
How exciting was seeing the Melbourne writing scene start to take off around you?
“At the time Carlton seemed to be the centre of Melbourne’s alternative art scene with La Mama Theatre and The Pram Factory, and writers and publishers seemed to gravitate to it.
Readings and I jumped right into that burgeoning scene and we’ve been part of the phenomenal growth in Australian writing and publishing. Something that makes me very proud.”
Tell us about bringing Readings to the St Kilda precinct and what you wanted to achieve with the store
“Well that story is a bit like the story with Ross. I’d also known Cosmos, as it was called, and respected it as a fine independent bookshop and a wonderful part of the local community. I also loved St Kilda as an area – it had a similar bohemian feel to it that Carlton had.
One weekend my wife and I were in St Kilda and went into Cosmos and as we were leaving, I heard a voice calling to me from the mezzanine office. It was co-owner Jack Halliday. Jack and Helen told me they had a vineyard down the coast and were looking to sell Cosmos – the rest is history!
We expanded the shop and created a much better space; one we could showcase local writers and musicians in, and be a real community hub.”
Where are some of your favourite places to head to for a bite to eat or drink when you’re around the St Kilda store?
“I love Cicciolina for a special meal and Monarch Cakes is a favourite for coffee; Gideon’s plum slice is to die for. Both seem to epitomise the European heritage that I love about St Kilda.
We’ve also done a few events at the St Kilda RSL and I always enjoy that building that showcases a different kind of heritage.”
What do you think is in store for St Kilda in the future?
“Acland Street has been a victim of its own success in one sense. Rent has gone up which has caused the shops and cafes that made Acland Street so vibrant to close and haven’t been replaced. We need to make Acland Street interesting again, a place where locals and tourist alike enjoy hanging out in.”
What books are on your nightstand at the moment? Any authors to watch?
“The Eight Life by Georgian writer, Nino Haratischvili. It’s a huge sprawling family history and absolutely immersive. I’m also reading Elliott Perlman’s new book, Maybe the Horse Will Talk which is partly set in St Kilda.
Alice Robinson is a writer to watch. Her second novel The Glad Shout came out earlier this year and won The Readings Prize.”
You’ve been able to grow where other bookstores have failed – what’s the next step for Readings going forward?
“I want Readings to always make a contribution to the local community. I’m biased but I think bookshops really add to a town or city.
See more Local Heroes from the City of Port Phillip, or explore our latest blog posts at Explore Port Phillip for more exciting things to check out.