WHEN Samuel Tegg opened a bookstore in Brisbane Street in 1844 he described it as a ‘‘splendid assortment of books, school books, stationery, playing cards, perfumery, fancy goods and music’’.
The unique nature of what is now known as Birchalls has lived on for more than 170 years.
Upon announcing the business was up for sale on Thursday, managing director Graeme Tilley said he hoped the store’s uniqueness lived on for another 100 years.
Mr Tilley said the time had come for Birchalls to be handed to a new generation.
‘‘It’s time to pass the baton on to someone else and they can carry it for 100 years,’’ Mr Tilley said.
‘‘We’re not selling it because there’s anything wrong with it.
‘‘At the end of the day, it’s a brilliant business.’’
Mr Tilley said staff were shocked by the news.
‘‘I wasn’t looking forward to today to be honest,’’ he said.
‘‘Especially telling the staff – that’s the hardest thing.’’
He said after 50 years of family ownership it had been a difficult decision.
‘‘It wasn’t an easy decision – Birchalls is such an icon of Launceston,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s such a strong brand.’’
Mr Tilley’s father Ray worked at Birchalls for 65 years, and took over ownership from his father Stanley in 1968.
‘‘I remember as a small child coming in here and helping my father set up stock,’’ Mr Tilley said.
‘‘It’s such an integral part of our family.’’
Mr Tilley said ideally, the name would live on under the new owner.
‘‘It could be here for another 100 years,’’ he said.
Mr Tilley said a growing number of interstate visitors were shopping at Birchalls.
‘‘They say ‘can you please open one of these shops on the mainland’,’’ he said.
Birchalls employs about 70 staff statewide, including 35 in the Launceston store.
Some have worked there for 30 years.
‘‘Someone left the other day who has been here 43 years,’’ he said.
Birchalls also owns home and gift shop Inside, as well as stores in Hobart and on the North-West Coast.
Along with being the oldest bookshop in Australia, Birchalls other claim to fame is inventing the notebook.
British TV historian Tony Robinson has followed up the claim and filmed in the store.
One of the quirkier sides to the store that has given Launceston residents fond memories over the years is the Birchalls model train, which dates back to the 1970s.
‘‘It’s had a few different formats – I wonder how many kilometres the train has done over the years?’’ Mr Tilley said.
Mr Tilley said Birchalls had so many genres it was hard to define it.
‘‘You go and ask ten people in the community what Birchalls is to them and they will tell you different things,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s a very diverse business and I think customers appreciate that.
‘‘It’s a world of discovery.’’
The shop has even sold pianos over the years.
‘‘They used to winch pianos up the stairs, would you believe?’’ Mr Tilley said.
Mr Tilley said E-books, which made up 16 per cent of the book market, had not affected sales at all.
The sale of the business will be handled by Harcourts and the premises will be sold by Knight Frank.