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May 9, 2024

Central Market Books in the dawn of change

Is Central Market Books entering its final chapter after three decades of trading literary treasures?

  • Words & pictures: Xenia Hackett

Barry Matto is an icon within an icon. As the owner of Central Market Books for over 40 years, he is a rare and constant presence in the fast-paced, ever-changing space.

In June last year, Barry faced two options at the end of his lease; move over or move out. The stall was relocated from its prime location on the northern roadway facing Grote Street to the eastern end opposite Standom Small Goods. His bookcases now resting on the iron wall between the expansion project and the Central Markets we know and love.

“I’ve been here 42 years. I know what the markets are like,” Barry says, as he pulls out his favourite coffee table book, Lost Adelaide.

CityMag would hate to see Barry’s bookshop join the pages of Lost Adelaide.

“When they sent me down here, I knew straight away it that it’d be a struggle… look at it here compared to over there, they’ve sent me to Siberia here.

“I didn’t think that was fair to my customers who over the years have come here. I have people who come here that don’t even buy a book, they just come for a chat.”

The move was a $15,000 out-of-pocket expense for Barry.

“So that’s it, you wanna move that’s what you got, otherwise see ya later… I had to grin and bear it because hey, my other choice is to just pack up and leave,” he says.

The re-location of Central Market Books opens up the age-old discussion on change and tradition.

“I can remember when we had a meeting with the builders to say this is what we’re going to do now,” Barry says.

“They were talking about turning it into a grand-sized shopping mall and that was a big shock.”

The Market Expansion Project is a $400 million investment in the future and betterment of the city, according to the market’s spiel on its website. It hopes to secure a growing future for the market, which already receives some 8.5 million annual visitors.

“The redevelopment will foster a local, diverse and multicultural place responding to changing consumer needs,” the website reads.

An artist’s render of the $400m Central Market Arcade redevelopment. This picture: ICD Property

But Barry is sceptical about the constant need for change after seeing how easily stall owners go out of business.

“Years ago they used to have stalls in tresses right around the market, right around the whole square and then overnight that changed,” he says.

“They say you gotta have changes to attract people in here. I don’t believe that.

“People come here because of the bookshop… the markets have changed tremendously from when I first moved in here, but I’m the only constant thing that hasn’t changed. Because how can you change books?”

Search the shelves for a hidden gem to add to your TBR

While history has claimed several market stalls, Barry’s spirit is far from beaten.

“When I was down the other end there [in the original location], I had a woman come in and she’d been after this one book about her father, and she duffed me dead – I had it on the shelf,” he says.

“She started crying and said ‘My dad and I have been after this book for 25 years’. I’ve never seen someone so happy in my life, tears were just bawling out of her eyes. I get a little buzz out of that. It’s fantastic.”

Barry’s overarching gratefulness to be part of the Central Market family rings true of greater Adelaide’s love for the historic space.

“Just because I’m complaining about certain things, there’s nothing like this in Australia,” he says.

“I had someone from Western Australia ring up their daughter and say ‘when you come here you’ve gotta come to Central Market it is absolutely fabulous, it’s unique!’”

While it’s too early to say what the next chapter holds for Barry, it’s clear that Central Market Books will do its best to avoid the pages of Lost Adelaide.

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