Little shop of wonders

The welcoming Verbatim Bookstore entrance.

For a dyed-in-the wool bibliophile, there are few places as dear to my heart as the old-
fashioned little bookshop of wonders.

And fitting the bill perfectly is the quaint Verbatim Bookshop on the corner of Dorp and Andringa streets in Stellenbosch. It is regarded as a haven for many a book-lover and an idle passerby, who may happen to enter its door (only to find themselves emerging hours later, perhaps, having gone down the proverbial rabbit hole of literary wonders, and hopefully clutching a new purchase to their chest, with a sense of delicious anticipation for happy hours of reading ahead).

Verbatim is frequented by locals, not-so-locals, and people from all over the world, who pop in regularly, or years apart, to peruse what is on offer, and have a stimulating discussion with one of the proprietors, Julie Kidd and Erna Ridge, who have been co-owners for four years.

Julie started the bookshop 14 years ago, and whenever I’ve been footloose in Stellenbosch, I’ve stuck my nose in the door to see if there is something I simply must have (even though I generally only discover that at the time, such is the lovely nature of impulse-buying when it comes to books (generally accompanied by a long “aaaahhh”).

Bookshops are a treasure, and need ongoing support to survive, and these two women nurture and protect this special little shop fiercely.

“It is not often that one meets a business partner and friend in the later stage of your life,” says Erna.

Julie and Erna share many interests, and they also share old time sentiments and try to do things the old way in the shop. “We price and write books up by hand and use little technology,” adds Erna, which is something I relate to fully, as those who are close to me, can attest to.

Julie shares more about the bookshop’s history: “In July 2006 I walked past a beautiful empty shop on the corner of Dorp and Andringa with a ‘To Rent’ sign in the window.

“A historical building with lovely wooden floors, high ceilings and sash windows (all but one which opened outwards, as once upon a time this very location housed a mortuary and it was easier to slide the stretchers in that type of window…) I thought it would be the most perfect spot for a bookshop.

“While I was fully supported by my family and friends, there was some concern about its success, as my background in medical technology offered very little in the running of a business.

“So I ordered a brand new Mini Cooper, said I would pay it off over five years, and knew I had to make it work. It was hard work but Verbatim succeeded,” says Julie.

They held book club evenings, book launches, poetry mornings, and even had a braai in Dorp Street (for Jan Braai’s cook book).

“At one such occasion, Jannie-the-Rasta, my self-appointed right hand man and guardian, gave up his spot at the night shelter to sit on his bucket near the stoep,” says Julie.

“He told me: ‘Ek en Janine wou baie graag gekom het, maar ons het nie ‘* uitnodiging gekry nie.’

“When I reminded him that he couldn’t read, he told me not to be rude. When he was presented with some snacks at the end of the evening, he added in Afrikaans that he couldn’t just keep on eating – his throat was getting dry – how about a little glass of red?”

They point out that Verbatim has been used as a place to propose marriage, a venue for fashion shoots, a haven for those looking for peace and quiet and also for those looking for something a bit special.

The bookstore has appeared on Top Billing, in Kulula in-flight magazine, in Die Burger and Elle Magazine.

Julie says: “We have been confidantes, hiders of secret gifts, friends and tour guides. The memories are priceless – from the young man, a bit lost as a foreign student from Canada, who said this shop is his spiritual home, to the lady who huffed at the door and asked me where she could find a proper bookshop.”

Julie and Erna say they have realised over the years that words bind people. On the shelves you will find new, rare, old and used books.

“We never look for books – the books find us,” says Erna, “and the fascinating task of visiting homes and going through other people’s libraries is just magic.”

Every now and then I’ll bump into Erna at Waterstone Pick * Pay, and while her wonderful husband Alan stands stolidly by, waiting for our (generally long and winding road) conversation to end, while he examines products and prices to pass the time, with the peaceful demeanour and patience of someone who knows how much passion his wife has for her topic, as does her conversational counterpoint in this moment.

Sometimes Erna will also regale me about having been to someone’s home to pick up a collection of books they’d like to sell or donate, and the fascinating topics that get covered in this intimate, lovely space for human interaction and connection, and how her world has extended into all the additional narratives that the love of the written word generally leads one to.

Eventually we part ways, remind ourselves of what was on our (long-forgotten) shopping lists, and go our separate ways with a smile and happy heart… me back to Bolander, and her back to her books (which reminds me of a favourite quote by the great bard… “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments…”).

I’m informed that frequent visitors to the shop include book lovers and readers (young and old), book collectors, villagers, tourists, and even animals (which warms my heart even further – just as visiting my vet at Teva always means a bit of stroking time with resident cat Salem).

The knowledgeable bookstore assistants, Professor Sarie Berkhout and Ingrid Smith, listen to people’s stories and help them to find new stories.

“We suggest books to read, wrap parcels and try to make the bookshop an experience for all our customers,” says Erna.

They also sell cards and articles made by local people or community projects, and Julie’s mother also contributes, making bookmarks using cord, beads and reativity.

“These unique bookmarks have become a valuable part of the bookshop, sometimes making a gift just that little bit extra special,” says Erna.

And what is a bookshop without a designated space for a “quote of the day”?

One of the many fun things at the shop is writing words on the outside blackboard, and Julie says they change the quotes and sayings on the board often.

“These quotes are interesting points of discussion for readers daily. This little old blackboard must be the most photographed one in the whole world,” she says.

“So many people stop, smile, take photographs, disagree, agree – and many locals make a point of walking past the board in the mornings before work to first read the words,” she adds.

A typical quote is: “…Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you…” (Winnie-the-Pooh by AA Milne)”

The small garden outside is also a talking point, and Erna shares some of the history of special plant residents.

“My first neighbour, Oom Burger, gave me a beautiful, delicate plant with dainty purple flowers 38 years ago.

“After various attempts at getting a cutting to grow at the shop, the little purple flowers are happily flowering this year. They are still nameless – only called Oom Burger’s flowers,” she says, adding “and Julie’s Bromeliads are show -stoppers in the garden.”

Many of Verbatim’s clients became friends over the years, like Nancy and her parrot Trane, Jeanette Spies (Van Huyssteen), the Siembamba-tannie on a radio programme for many years, dear friends Dave and Lorna Hughes, visitors from The Netherlands, Scotland, England and many other countries.

Erna shared something that Dave Hughes expressed to her: “As long as I can remember I have enjoyed books.

“I remember well visiting the city of Salisbury (now Harare) from the little town of Umtali in the then Rhodesia, and my mother took me to a shop that only sold books . A marvel to my little mind,” said Dave.

He added: “When I settled in Stellenbosch, I had a selection of good bookshops to choose from. I patronised two in particular, and then Verbatim came into focus. It became my PBP… Preferred book provider.

“Over time Julie, and then Julie and Erna, seemed to be able to find whatever I wanted. Then they began to make their own suggestions. They were never wrong.

“You know you are on a good thing when your BP (Book provider) begins to give you books as presents. That is more deeply underlined when you find yourself in hospital and Julie and Erna, accompanied by spouses, come to visit.

“Stellenbosch would never be the same without Verbatim and its ladies,” concludes Dave.

(Incidentally, Dave and his wife are not only known in the world of wine, but also that of their tireless support of animals in distress, in particular their work at the Stellenbosch Animal Welfare Society, and are well known to Bolander readers).

Erna has always had a love affair with words, saying: “Books are my friends and it is wonderful to introduce other people to them too.

“To see the young people reading poetry to each other on the little ‘rooi bankie’ in the shop is magic. In fact, there is often a magical feel in Verbatim.

“I love people, books, animals and flowers, and when I am in the bookshop I am surrounded by most things that make me happy every day.

“I cannot think what my day would be like without a book in my hand, reading,” Erna says

Julie’s take on the experience is as follows: “What I have loved most about this experience is meeting remarkable people, many of whom have become loyal customers who return time and time again.

“Sourcing elusive copies of rare gems and learning to read our customers and their likes and dislikes. The thrill when you get it right. My wish is that even if they don’t buy anything, they leave feeling a little better than when they came in.”

But as Erna and Julie told Bolander… “These are challenging times. There is no doubt that there is a need for the existence of a valuable little independent bookshop like this in the heart of Stellenbosch. Will it be possible to continue or will this gem be lost forever?”

The current quote on their little old blackboard is: “Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out” – by John Wooden.

Julie shares more about the bookshop’s history: “In July 2006 I walked past a beautiful empty shop on the corner of Dorp and Andringa with a ‘To Rent’ sign in the window.

“A historical building with lovely wooden floors, high ceilings and sash windows (all but one which opened outwards, as once upon a time this very location housed a mortuary and it was easier to slide the stretchers in that type of window…) I thought it would be the most perfect spot for a bookshop.

“While I was fully supported by my family and friends, there was some concern about its success, as my background in medical technology offered very little in the running of a business.

“So I ordered a brand new Mini Cooper, said I would pay it off over five years, and knew I had to make it work. It was hard work but Verbatim succeeded,” says Julie.

They held book club evenings, book launches, poetry mornings, and even had a braai in Dorp Street (for Jan Braai’s cook book).

“At one such occasion, Jannie-the-Rasta, my self-appointed right hand man and guardian, gave up his spot at the night shelter to sit on his bucket near the stoep,” says Julie.

“He told me: ‘Ek en Janine wou baie graag gekom het, maar ons het nie ‘* uitnodiging gekry nie.’

“When I reminded him that he couldn’t read, he told me not to be rude. When he was presented with some snacks at the end of the evening, he added in Afrikaans that he couldn’t just keep on eating – his throat was getting dry – how about a little glass of red?”

They point out that Verbatim has been used as a place to propose marriage, a venue for fashion shoots, a haven for those looking for peace and quiet and also for those looking for something a bit special.

The bookstore has appeared on Top Billing, in Kulula in-flight magazine, in Die Burger and Elle Magazine.

Julie says: “We have been confidantes, hiders of secret gifts, friends and tour guides. The memories are priceless – from the young man, a bit lost as a foreign student from Canada, who said this shop is his spiritual home, to the lady who huffed at the door and asked me where she could find a proper bookshop.”

Julie and Erna say they have realised over the years that words bind people. On the shelves you will find new, rare, old and used books.

“We never look for books – the books find us,” says Erna, “and the fascinating task of visiting homes and going through other people’s libraries is just magic.”

Every now and then I’ll bump into Erna at Waterstone Pick * Pay, and while her wonderful husband Alan stands stolidly by, waiting for our (generally long and winding road) conversation to end, while he examines products and prices to pass the time, with the peaceful demeanour and patient of someone who knows how much passion his wife has for her topic, as does her conversational counterpoint in this moment.

Sometimes Erna will also regale me about having been to someone’s home to pick up a collection of books they’d like to sell or donate, and the fascinating topics that get covered in this intimate, lovely space for human interaction and connection, and how her world has extended into all the additional narratives that the love of the written word generally leads one to.

Eventually we part ways, remind ourselves of what was on our (long-forgotten) shopping lists, and go our separate ways with a smile and happy heart… me back to Bolander, and her back to her books (which reminds me of a favourite quote by the great bard… “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments…”).

I’m informed that frequent visitors to the shop include book lovers and readers (young and old), book collectors, villagers, tourists, and even animals (which warms my heart even further – just as visiting my vet at Teva always means a bit of stroking time with resident cat Salem).

The knowledgeable bookstore assistants, Professor Sarie Berkhout and Ingrid Smith, listen to people’s stories and help them to find new stories.

“We suggest books to read, wrap parcels and try to make the bookshop an experience for all our customers,” says Erna.

They also sell cards and articles made by local people or community projects, and Julie’s mother also contributes, making bookmarks using cord, beads and reativity.

“These unique bookmarks have become a valuable part of the bookshop, sometimes making a gift just that little bit extra special,” says Erna.

And what is a bookshop without a designated space for a “quote of the day”?

One of the many fun things at the shop is writing words on the outside blackboard, and Julie says they change the quotes and sayings on the board often.

“These quotes are interesting points of discussion for readers daily. This little old blackboard must be the most photographed one in the whole world,” she says.

“So many people stop, smile, take photographs, disagree, agree – and many locals make a point of walking past the board in the mornings before work to first read the words,” she adds.

A typical quote is: “…Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you…” (Winnie-the-Pooh by AA Milne)”

The small garden outside is also a talking point, and Erna shares some of the history of special plant residents.

“My first neighbour, Oom Burger, gave me a beautiful, delicate plant with dainty purple flowers 38 years ago.

“After various attempts at getting a cutting to grow at the shop, the little purple flowers are happily flowering this year. They are still nameless – only called Oom Burger’s flowers,” she says, adding “and Julie’s Bromeliads are show stoppers in the garden.”

Many of Verbatim’s clients became friends over the years, like Nancy and her parrot Trane, Jeanette Spies (Van Huyssteen), the Siembamba-tannie on a radio programme for many years, dear friends Dave and Lorna Hughes, visitors from The Netherlands, Scotland, England and many other countries.

Erna shared something that Dave Hughes expressed to her: “As long as I can remember I have enjoyed books. I remember well visiting the city of Salisbury (Now Harare) from the little town of Umtali in the then Rhodesia, and my mother took me to a shop that only sold books . A marvel to my little mind,” said Dave.

He added: “When I settled in Stellenbosch, I had a selection of good bookshops to choose from. I patronised two in particular, and then Verbatim came into focus. It became my PBP… Preferred book provider.

“Over time Julie, and then Julie and Erna, seemed to be able to find whatever I wanted. Then they began to make their own suggestions. They were never wrong.

“You know you are on a good thing when your BP (Book provider) begins to give you books as presents. That is more deeply underlined when you find yourself in hospital and Julie and Erna, accompanied by spouses, come to visit.

“Stellenbosch would never be the same without Verbatim and its ladies,” concludes Dave.

(Incidentally, Dave and his wife are not only known in the world of wine, but also that of their tireless support of animals in distress, in particular their work at the Stellenbosch Animal Welfare Society, and are well known to Bolander readers).

Erna has always had a love affair with words, saying: “Books are my friends and it is wonderful to introduce other people to them too.

“To see the young people reading poetry to each other on the little ‘rooi bankie’ in the shop is magic. In fact, there is often a magical feel in Verbatim.

“I love people, books, animals and flowers, and when I am in the bookshop I am surrounded by most things that make me happy every day.

“I cannot think what my day would be like without a book in my hand, reading,” Erna says

Julie’s take on the experience is as follows: “What I have loved most about this experience is meeting remarkable people, many of whom have become loyal customers who return time and time again.

“Sourcing elusive copies of rare gems and learning to read our customers and their likes and dislikes. The thrill when you get it right. My wish is that even if they don’t buy anything, they leave feeling a little better than when they came in.”

But as Erna and Julie told Bolander… “These are challenging times. There is no doubt that there is a need for the existence of a valuable little independent bookshop like this in the heart of Stellenbosch. Will it be possible to continue or will this gem be lost forever?”

The current quote on their little old blackboard is: “Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out” – by John Wooden.

For more information on the bookshop, contact Erna Ridge or Julie Kidd at 021 887 2655, or email verbatimbooks@gmail.com