The Legendary Hard to Find Bookshop

Iconic is a much overused word, but it is perfectly applicable to Warwick Jordan’s Hard to Find Bookshop.

When Warwick began in 1983, his secondhand bookshop was a weekend hobby in his rented garage in John Street, Ponsonby.

He moved to Onehunga in 1984 and right from the start called the shop ‘The Legendary’ although it was then in its infancy.

The shop went from strength to strength, and people began coming from far and wide as the reputation grew and the ‘legendary’ title was earned.

Then last year came a huge blow. They lost their Onehunga premises and had nowhere to go. The business is commercial, but it is also part hobby, part lifestyle, and partly Warwick’s baby. It pays its way, including staff, but makes a meagre profit. They could not afford a high rental.

In his inimitable style, Warwick set out to find a new home for his 90-100,000 books. He had almost given up when he had a brain wave. He wrote to the Catholic Bishop of Auckland, saying he was seeking a miracle. He believed that the church was in the business of miracles!

The Bishop was sympathetic but not too reassuring when he told Warwick he would hand over the brief to an assistant.

Now, Warwick was not a Catholic and told the Bishop that. His wife and children were, however, of the faith.

About six months ago Warwick was staggered to find that the church would consider leasing him the old building in St Benedict Street which had been empty for several years, and was very run down. This building had been the home of Mary McKillop, a famous early Auckland Catholic teacher and, now, saint.

As Warwick and his team set about getting the building in shape, they built a pulpit in honour of Mary McKillop, with books and memorabilia of her time making up the display.

A few of the original shelves from Onehunga are still in the new shop. It is a lovely rabbit warren of a building - Hard to Find Books would be totally out of place in conventional spaces.

The old Catholic confessional door and window are on display, where parishioners came each week to seek absolution.

Warwick is not religious, but he has faith that the church will not kick him out any time soon. He is respectful of the space his shop occupies.

At one time there were nine Hard to Finds throughout New Zealand. There is still one more in Dunedin, and it is to here that Warwick sends books to be sold over the internet. No, as far as sales are concerned he is not living in the past, but he does bemoan the Amazons of this world who have very few staff (automation), no physical community presence and view books only as a profitable product.

Warwick Jordan calls himself an ‘enabled hoarder’. He buys deceased estate books, often taking a couple of days to help sort shelves of books lovingly kept for years. Often family can’t use them or have no space for them anyway.

It was my first time in the St Benedict Street shop. I used to visit and sometimes buy in Onehunga. My visit reminded me that you need more than a few minutes to peruse a fraction of Hard to Find’s collection.

It struck me that the books looked in good order, and Warwick confirmed that he spends time repairing deserving books with archival materials - something inconceivable to Amazon.

Go visit The Legendary Hard to Find Bookshop and introduce yourself to Warwick and his staff. Don’t schedule anything else that day!

In another 40 years take another pilgrimage to Hard to Find, and you may see a bust of Warwick Jordan on display at the legendary Hard to Find (but worth the effort) quality secondhand bookshop. He may have retired, but he never left the premises. (JOHN ELLIOTT)