– Marilyn Cohen de Villiers, winner of the Allaboutwriting October 2013 writing challenge
“Never judge a book by its cover”. That adage could not be more apt for the totally unprepossessing structure on the corner of Dunotter Street and Louis Botha Avenue in Orange Grove. Its name, Tuxedo Junction, sits uncomfortably on the austere, block-like façade. A functional building, thrown up in the 1970s, if I recall correctly. It’s a far cry from Dondorps Bakery which occupied that site in my early childhood. There, at the bottom of Dunotter just off Louis Botha Avenue was a wonderland of great smells and tastes; a magnet for Orange Grove Primary School pupils.
We would stream down the road during the extra-long second break on Mondays to buy a pie, or a cookie, or a Chelsea bun – anything to sustain us until the home bell rang after sewing class. I would venture through the door, clutching my shiny gold half-cent and one-cent pieces and waver between the pink and yellow, or the green and mauve strings of boilies.
Today, as I ventured up the concrete ramp at the side of the drab building, a different but equally delightful smell assailed me. There, in “The Garret” I discovered Kalahari Books, where Richard Welch stocks his formidable collection of 80 000 used, old, hard-to-find and out of print books. Books of all sizes, types and vintages are stacked on shelves from floor to the very high ceiling, loosely grouped by category: drama, theatre, crime, romance, suspense, children’s, poetry, non-fiction, classics, biographies. There’s everything from the classics to Clancy, new authors, old authors, paperbacks and old hardcovers so faded you can hardly make out their titles.
“If there’s anything you particularly want, ask me,” Richard said. “If we don’t have it, I’ll try and get it for you.”
I didn’t have anything particular in mind. I wandered around, picking up this book, discarding another, in a total quandary: what on earth to buy with my R200 prize from Allaboutwritingcourses.
Richard kindly offered me a cup of tea.
Eventually I made my choice and sat down in an old armchair to enjoy my tea and chat. Then Richard mentioned that a few of those cartons, over there, contained books by Jewish authors. Would I like to see them? Would I ever! He collected two of the cartons and opened them. I stopped him from getting a third. I exchanged two of the books I had already chosen for two of the “Jewish” collection. I kept three of my original choices as well. Enough. I’d spent R55 more than my prize, didn’t have cash on me (as usual) and Kalahari Books doesn’t take credit cards.
“Never mind,” Richard said. “Just transfer the money to our account when you can.” My fond memories I’d had of Dondrops faded: the manager at the old bakery never let me take more strings of sweets than I could exchange for my sweaty cents.
Great service, a huge selection of books, and an owner who genuinely cares about his customers and his trade. What more could one ask from a bookstore? I’ll be back.