You all know the deal: a glut of empty stores and vacant sections of malls taking on spooky proportions countywide — it’s tough out there in the retail wilderness. Which is why the small guys who’re hanging in there need backing and praise. A top example — two neighbours at Melville’s Bamboo Centre, who’re much adored fixtures in our town.
First, there’s Carmen van der Merwe’s Service Station restaurant. It turns 20 this month. Where would the good people of the Parks and surrounds have been without their weekend breakfast eggs Benedict, espressos, and the papers for the past two decades? And what of a world minus its lunch harvest table — laden with quiches, salads, and lasagne? It’s not a nice prospect to contemplate. The academics, the artists, the business types, the moms, the teenagers (who’re being paid for by said moms), the politicians — you’ll find them all dotted around the café tables and banquettes.
I love the joint for its laidback, bistro interior, ace staff, lightly curried mayo salad, and the best damn carrot cake around. We go there to work, to buy pantry goods, to gossip, and to see every single person we know in Joburg. Haven’t been? Bet you’ve tasted Service Station food. The number of takeaway meals they’ve made (in customers’ own dishes, of course) for dinner parties across the city over the years must run into the thousands.
Across the glass doors and turning 10 this month is Love Books. Which Joburg bibliophile hasn’t spent time in this independent bookstore over the years — browsing, spending way too much cash, reading with their littlies, or attending book launches?
A visit to owner Kate Rogan, manager Anna Joubert, and this literary enclave is therapy. Schloomping in a tapestry-covered chair, paging through new fiction releases, or chatting to the duo about what one should read next makes you feel better about the world.
Joubert has a savant-like knowledge of books and what shoppers might want — it’s an instinct, almost. I have ugly cried over David Nicholls’ One Day because of this team. Been mesmerised by Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 because of them. We’ve argued about whether Sally Rooney is the voice of a generation, marvelled at Sisonke Msimang’s prose, and commiserated over AA Gill’s passing. Because of this little bookstore, I know I hate books set in forests and that every South African journalist apparently “has a book in them”.
Love Books goes head to head with cult international indie bookstores, and we should be proud of that.
• From the June edition of Wanted 2019.