Feeling at home with charity on Louis Botha Avenue

If we were to draw inspiration from spiritual books, we would learn that the hand that gives is more blessed than the hand that receives. On Louis Botha A venue, however, sometimes it is giving inspired by experience, yet without expectation, which contributes to changing lives.

Second-hand shops along Louis Botha Avenue are not uncommon, yet there is one that stands out from the rest. Situated on the west side of the avenue, the Hospice Wits shop does more than sell pre-owned items at a fraction of the price. The shop is an epitome of the saying, ‘One man’s trash is another one’s treasure’. The sales of this said treasure contribute towards sustaining an organisation that ensures that those suffering from terminal illnesses are as comfortable as possible in their final days.

Hospice Wits is a child’s paradise of fun and entertainment, a reader’s central hub of information and, judging by the rose-scented incense burning in the furniture department, a home owner’s one-stop shop for basic essentials.  

The toy store within the Hospice Wits shop provides children with a sense of education as well as entertainment. Photo: Molebogeng Mokoka

Merely describing those who shop there as customers may even seem like down-play, especially considering the role they play towards giving back to the community, abiding by the motto, ‘No end to caring’ as displayed boldly on the corridors of the shop.    

The Hospice Wits shop forms part of a series of charity shops in the Johannesburg region aimed at raising funds for Hospice Wits, a facility in Houghton that provides palliative care to terminally ill patients.

‘The aim is to make the lives of terminally ill people as comfortable as possible before they pass on. In some cases a patient may not want to move into the hospice itself, so there is a team of nurses that visit the patient’s home to check on them,’ said 34-year-old Lebogang Thelele, head of the furniture, toys and clothing department. 

According to the Hospice Wits website, ‘The Hospice Association of the Witwatersrand was started in September 1979 by a Johannesburg couple, Stan and Sherley Henen, who first responded to a need in their community for hospice care.

‘The Gordon Waddell House on 2nd avenue was donated to Hospice Wits, and in 1983 the property on 1st Avenue was purchased. It became known as Greendale House and was converted into a six-bed in-patient unit.’

The facility has since grown to provide services to a greater number of patients, and today it has more than 125 full-time staff members including doctors, nurses, social workers and psychologists.      

But how does a charity shop manage to occupy an entire block of land? 

According to a document released, titled Spacial Transformations and Identities in New Immigrant Spaces, by Wits University’s School of Architecture and Planning, ‘Orange Grove and Norwood developed in the early 20th century. Economic and demographic shifts in the CBD in the 1970s and 1980s affected Louis Botha Avenue and Orange Grove experienced a decline.

‘The decline of the area around Louis Botha Avenue during the 1980s made rental affordable for black South Africans, foreign residents and business owners.’ 

Jeffery Shabala, who has been managing the shop for the past three years, said that the Hospice, which has been in existence on Louis Botha for about 20 years, is run independently.

BELOW: Hospice Wits shop along Louis Botha Avenue is not just a charity shop which aims to raise money for Hospice Wits itself. It has become a second-home to some of its employees. Faheema Essop, Busisiwe Mavondo and Princess Nonjijij share experiences within their own family, which inspired them to work at Hospice Wits shop.

 ‘We don’t pay rent because we own this block. Before moving here, the hospice was located close to where the [Inland] pharmacy  was. This block was occupied by a liquor store, I think it was called Liquor Boys, a dry cleaners, and there was also a car park,’ he said. 

The decline not only made it easier to purchase property in those days, it has also permeated the current state of the area around Louis Botha.  

This could be seen in protests that erupted there in April this year. According to a news report by the SABC, residents of Orange Grove took to the streets of Louis Botha, demanding that outgoing Joburg Mayor Herman Mashaba address issues of poor service delivery, provide housing for poor families and convert unused government buildings into accommodation. 

Despite not having to pay rent, the charity shop still needs to be able to pay creditors, employees and maintenance.

Shabalala said, ‘Besides selling the items to the public, we also engage in donor drives to generate income. We have also leased some of the space within the shops.’ 

One of these leased spaces is occupied by a nail bar owned by 35-year-old Xoli Nkosi. 

LEFT: It’s not unfamiliar to walk inside Hospice Wits shop and be seranaded by good music. For sale is wide collection of music, movies and games for the whole family. Photo: Molebogeng Mokoka

‘I enjoy working in this space,’ she said. ‘Even though I am renting, I have a good relationship with the people who work here.’ Among those to whom Nkosi refers are Busisiwe Mavondo, Faheema Essop and Princess Nonjiji.

Collectively, these three women are described as the pillars that keep the shop running, going beyond the call of duty to ensure unity among colleagues.

Sitting inside the coffee shop at 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon, Mavondo adjusts her spectacles, keeping an  eye on the boutique store located directly opposite. She single-handedly manages the boutique.

‘I have been working inside the Hospice Wits shop for six years.  I first heard about the shop when I came here as a customer. 

‘I started out as a volunteer, since I was a housewife and had a lot of time on my hands. Since then I have been able to work in every one of these shops, except the bookstore,’ she said.

Listening to the top-of-the-hour news on 702, Mavondo says helping the less fortunate had always been something she wanted to do. She hopes to one day go to her home town of Nkandla, Kwa-Zulu Natal, to start her own charity shop there. 

‘I currently stay in Bramley. Sometimes when I am here at work I see an item that may help one of my neighbours. I then buy it for them, because working here has given me the power to help. 

‘I once heard about an initiative that helps young girls with dresses in time for their matric dance and thought it would be a great idea if I did this for my community back home. 

‘In the past, things such as a matric dance were not that important, but they are today. If I can start a boutique similar to this one, I can help young girls enjoy their matric dance. All I need is funding,’ she said.

The boutique contains various racks on which clothes ranging from wedding dresses to formal dresses are displayed, as well as jewellery. 

‘Sometimes people come here and buy from the boutique in bulk. We have filmmakers coming here to buy clothes as costumes.

‘We do not get involved in what the customer does with the items once they own them, but I believe in extending a helping hand, so it would be interesting if the items were donated after being used,’ she said.

Mavondo’s 30-year-old son also works in the retail sector.

‘I raised my children to help others when they can. My son collects second-hand clothing and sells it for a living. 

‘Sometimes he comes here and donates the items he collected. He even comes to buy clothes for himself,’ she said. 

Busisiwe Mavondo shows off her outfit, comprised entirely of items she bought inside Hospice Wits shop. Photo: Molebogeng Mokoka

According to an article by Susan Horne titled The Charity Shop: Purpose and Change, General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, wrote in his book, ‘There was a large amount of wastage of goods in “well-to-do” homes that could be channeled into supplying the “submerged” with employment. 

‘Category 1 covers those charity shops that sell only donated goods. Category 2 comprises shops that, in addition to selling donated goods, sell a percentage of new bought-in goods. Category 3 shops sell only bought-in, new goods’.

Situated west of Louis Botha, the Hospice Wits shop could be classified as category 2, since some of the items sold inside are new.

Before it hits the shelves

Everything that comes through to the shop has to first pass by the eyes of Faheema Essop.

Essop, 34, has been working at the shop for the past nine years. 

‘I came to know about the hospice itself when my grandmother was ill. During her last days, nurses from the hospice came to our house to check on her and make sure she was as comfortable as possible.‘

Seeing the nurses care for my grandmother made me see that there are people out there who are willing to help others, even during the final chapters of their lives. That is what inspired me to come here,’ she said.

Essop works in the donations section of the shop, where people drop off goods or where the goods are delivered after being collected from donors. 

‘We have different people coming in regularly to donate clothes. Not everything we get is usable, but we never turn people away because they have good intentions.    

‘I would describe this place [the hospice] as my first home. I spend more time with my colleagues than I do with my family. I am here from eight o’ clock in the morning until around five in the afternoon, from Monday to Saturday.

‘Our work goes beyond collecting items. If one of our colleagues needs help with something, we try to assist them in the best possible way. We not only make it easy for strangers to give to our organisation, we also help each other out as colleagues,’ said Essop.

The force being long-standing relations

 Nonjiji has been employed at Hospice Wits for 13 years and is one of the employees who have been there longest. 

The 53-year-old retail assistant is described as peaceful, straightforward and respectful by her colleague, Trevor Makwesa, who is one of the heads of department. 

RIGHT: All donated items are first brought to the attention of Faheema before they are sorted and displayd in the different shops. Photo: Molebogeng Mokoka

‘I know everyone who works in this shop because I have been here for so long. It’s not easy when everyone comes to you asking for help.  

‘Sometimes my colleagues have disagreements and come to me for advice,’ said Nonjiji. ‘The toughest thing is that people have different personalities, so I have to solve the problem and make sure that the two work well together in the future.’

Despite this, she said these were not the only challenges.

‘Over the years, the amount of donations we have been receiving has gone down. In the past this whole corridor [pointing outside] used to be filled with clothes and toys, but it’s not the same anymore. 

‘We also used to get donations from big companies, but not anymore. I think that maybe people are selling their things on the internet and getting money for them instead of donating them for free, I can’t say for sure. But I can tell you that it is not the same as it was,’ she said. 

Despite Nonjiji’s concern that the shop is not generating enough donations and support as it did in the past, there are some customers that frequently visit and have formed relationships with the staff. 

ABOVE: Hospice Wits shop sells a wide variety of antique items, books, jewellery and clothing and furniture. Photos: Molebogeng Mokoka

One of them is Lydia Daka, a 46-year-old woman from Berea who has been visiting the shop since 2005. 

‘In the beginning I used to come here to buy chairs and tables,’ says Daka, ‘but these days I either come here to read or buy books when I have money. ‘I know most of the people who work here and they are always willing to help. At least when I am buying from this shop I know I am contributing to a good cause,’ she says, holding up a copy of Right Body For Your Health.

The library feel of the bookstore lies not only in the setup, but also in the musty scent of old pieces of paper piled up together.
Hospice Wits on Louis Botha tells a story that goes beyond donations and fundraising.

It tells the story of people who witnessed transformation and decay over the years, where factors such as poverty lurk in the corners.

Mavondo, Nonjiji and Essop’s involvement is not only inspired by previous experience within the family, but the three women also instill in their colleagues the notion of healthy working relationships that benefit the greater community, proving that the concept of family may sometimes go beyond blood relations.

FEATURED IMAGE: A graphic showing people and the word Charity, Photo: Supplied

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The survival of a bookshop in an evolving and artsy Melville

Love Books is able to survive in a suburb that is constantly evolving due to its relationship with its customers and members of the community.

A faded Afrikaans quote from Réney Warrington’s book, Oktober, has lain on the doorstep of one of Johannesburg’s oldest suburb’s remaining independent bookshops, Love Books, since 2012, emphasising a habitation that was once predominately Afrikaans.

ENTRANCE: A customer step’s over the quote from Réney Warrington’s book, Oktober. 

Love Books is situated in Melville’s Bamboo Lifestyle Centre and has its front door a metre away from the bustling Rustenburg Road. Situated at the corner of the centre, Love Books’ main entrance stands out due to the pink and red cut-out stickers on the windows and the display of books’ visibility from the road. 

The structure of the shop allows for one to see through to the back of shop and catch a glimpse of the sunshine in the courtyard upon entering by the front door. Another two entrances allow for visitors of the centre to explore something new after having their hair cut or something to eat at one of the centre’s eateries, the Service Station, for example.

The inter-leading doors between Love Books and Service Station makes it easy for customers to stroll in and out. The wooden tiles leading into Love Books tell the story of many who have walked through, while the shop itself looks the same as it did nine years ago. The majority of traffic that flows into Love Books is made up of Service Station customers and one cannot help but wonder whether the footsteps leading into Love Book would be fewer without the presence of their neighbour.

GENRE: One of many embroidered signs hangs on a bookshelf of non-fiction books.     

It’s not every day that one comes across an independent bookshop. The existence of Love Books is unique as it is one of two independent bookshops in the area and one of few in Johannesburg. The survival of the bookshop in an artsy and evolving Melville goes unnoticed as almost every customer that walks in has a relationship with owner, Kate Rogan, or one of her three employees. The way in which the bookshop values itself on the relationship it has with its customers allows for its survival in a time when a hardcopy book is not always an individual’s first option.

As the front door creeks open, a carefully selected range of books strikes the eyes of a well-dressed, middle-class lady. Books are arranged by genres which are labelled by signs embroidered by shop manager, Anna Joubert.  Shelves from floor to ceiling and tables both high and low are bursting under the weight of unread books. Posters of books and picture frames relating to authors occupy the spaces on the walls and unopened boxes of books hide under shelves. Gift cards, colouring-in books and notepads fill the gaps. Dolls hang from the ceiling and music softly plays while the chatter from neighbouring conversations seeps in through the inter-leading doors.

ENTREPRENEUR: Kate Logan, owner of Love Books, glances at one of the many books on her shop’s shelves. 

A confused-looking individual rushes in  through the front door looking to buy wine only to find out that for the past nine years the space has been occupied by a bookshop. She exits the shop as fast as she walked in.

A young girl dressed in a multi-coloured striped towel, matching costume and flipflops is reading The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling. Another lady, dressed in her gym-gear, walks in only to realise she has used the wrong door and does not want a book but a cup of coffee from the Service Station.

Love Books was started by Jaci Jenkins and Kate Rogan on June 8, 2009. Rogan remembers the days before her shop’s doors opened and how her home lounge was filled with boxes of books waiting to be shelved. Having started 11 years after Service Station came into business she says that having the eatery next door has helped her business a lot and that the inter-leading door brings out the idea of books and coffee.

“When we started out the majority of our traffic came from the Service Station, well a big portion of it did, and now we can stand on our own completely. So, I do not mind having people using our doors to get there as we needed their doors to get people here,” she says.

READ: Saaleha Idress
 Bamjee’s poetry collection is selected by a customer.

Louw Kotze, the manager of Service Station and customer of Love Books, says that he has a great working relationship with Rogan and her bookshop. “We fill in each other very well. I enjoy our shops being linked as our customers go there and their customers come here,” he says.

Rogan has managed to keep the doors of her bookshop open through her entrepreneurial mind-set of running a business. The 52-year-old has always been a part of the book industry in one way or another. Before opening Love Books, Rogan produced Talk Radio 702’s Book Show from 2004 to 2009, which she says helped increase her book knowledge and understanding of the market. She was also a commissioning editor at Zebra Press, which became a part of Struik, where she worked on “loads of interesting books”. She prides herself on her shop’s book collection which she has individually handpicked. She buys books directly from their publishers and regularly meets with book representatives in order to keep updated with the new books that are coming out

Louw Kotze, the manager of Service Station and customer of Love Books, says that he has a great working relationship with Rogan and her bookshop. “We fill in each other very well. I enjoy our shops being linked as our customers go there and their customers come here,” he says.

Rogan has managed to keep the doors of her bookshop open through her entrepreneurial mind-set of running a business. The 52-year-old has always been a part of the book industry in one way or another. Before opening Love Books, Rogan produced Talk Radio 702’s Book Show from 2004 to 2009, which she says helped increase her book knowledge and understanding of the market. She was also a commissioning editor at Zebra Press, which became a part of Struik, where she worked on “loads of interesting books”. She prides herself on her shop’s book collection which she has individually handpicked. She buys books directly from their publishers and regularly meets with book representatives in order to keep updated with the new books that are coming out.

Most of the books in Rogan’s shop are written by local authors as Love Books honours itself on its support of local authors. Before making room on loaded bookshelves, selected books are welcomed into the shop through book launches which have been taking place since Love Books opened its doors and have always been catered by the Service Station. To date, their biggest book launch has been Suzelle’s DIY: The Book by Ari Kruger. Rogan explains that over time more launches have occurred and, as a result, they have become “an integral part of [the] business”.

Saleeha Idrees Bamjee, a South African author, is a regular attendee of book launches at Love Books. She says, “It’s helpful that [Love Books] is in a complex with popular eateries, I’m sure they benefit from the foot traffic and vice versa … Many people would rather support a small independent business than a franchise, especially one that makes an effort to be inclusive and on the pulse.”

Bamjee had her first published poetry collection launched in the shop in September this year. “To have my own (book launch) take place there felt like a graduation, a culmination of a fulfilling creative journey,” says the 35-year-old.

Bamjee has her own book on the shelves but she admits to being a Kindle reader as it allows her to download books quicker than she can get to a book shop. She believes that technology is affecting the way in which individuals interact with hardcopy books as well as bookshops. 

“Some people do only Kindle, some people do only books, some people do a combination and it is okay for now,” says Rogan. 

Joubert, who manages the shop on weekdays and spends time reading with her family on weekends, says that customers unashamedly come into the shop and admit to having downloaded a book on their electronic device. She says there is no judgement on how individuals prefer to read and that some of the customers who have downloaded a book come in looking for a hardcopy.

Amanda Mitchell, another Love Books employee who works on Sundays, says that with the evolution of technology not many people read anymore. “It’s the parents raising their children to read rather than have all the other available technologies and interests who come here,” she says.

Another effect on Love Books is the competition that the bookshop has with the country’s leading book chains. Rogan explains that she is not always able to compete with book chains as she does not have the mass market that a shop such as Exclusive Books has. She may sell items other than books, but her market is not looking for anything more. She says that she can put the books and items Exclusive Books has on their shelves, but they are not going to go anywhere.

“I offer a sort of curated selection of stuff. I think people come in here, like my customers like coming in here, because they know that what is on the shelf has been thoughtfully chosen and they can kind of rely on that part of their decision making around buying the book,” she says.

Customers of Love Books are mostly made up of Melville’s community members, but others have come from all corners of Johannesburg, with the odd customer being a tourist from a foreign country.

Community members consist of residents, students from universities nearby such as the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) and the University of Johannesburg (UJ), individuals from neighbouring suburbs as well as those who work nearby. The proximity and offerings of the suburb to its neighbours is inviting for all and Rogan is both proud and pleased that her bookshop has been able to survive the evolving environment of what has become an artsy Melville.

Having had two bookshops close down since 2009, one of which Rogan signed a petition to keep open, she is confident that her shop will continue to survive.  As one of two remaining independent bookshops in the suburb, Rogan believes that, “Melville is a great place to have a bookshop because we are really part of the community, and it’s a community that is interested in reading and supportive of authors”.

MAP: A map of the surrounding entrepreneurial hubs in Melville.                                                                                                        Created by: Mary Sayegh

The shop has individuals, who are mostly middle to upper-class, coming through the doors on a daily basis. The age of these individuals ranges from as mature as 99-years-old to as young as 9-week-old babies in strollers having their parents purchasing them their first book.

While some individuals use the main entrance as a gate-way to the Service Station or others stroll in through the back door that links to the centre’s hairdresser, most individuals come in to see what book they can get their hands on. Most individuals who enter show some  interest in what the bookshop has to offer and although a purchase may not be made on every visit, a conversation between an employee and an individual is usually had.

Rachel Silber, an employee of Love Books who works on Saturdays, believes that the shop has been able to keep its doors open due to its reputation in the community and word-of-mouth attracting new customers.

The full-time Wits BA student does not think that everyone who is a customer at the Service Station knows that there is a bookshop right next to them but having the inter-leading doors allows for them to discover something new.

“We (at Love Books) like to think that we are a portal to knowledge and enlightenment for people who walk through the doors of Service Station,” says the 19-year-old.

Nicole Fritz, a long-standing customer of Love Books for the past five years, regularly visits the centre with her husband and two children. They frequently have their Sunday breakfast at the Service Station as it allows for their kids to come into Love Books and let their imaginations run wild.

The basket of easily-accessible books for young children, who are wanting to read on their own in the shop, allows for any child to come in and enjoy the books. The basket is piled with books that have been used by children over the years and is inclusive of all genres from fairy-tales and fantasy to fables and myths.

Fritz’s kids rush into Love Books in their Sunday best to pick up whatever they can get their hands on. Although they are at an age where they cannot read, they can be seen opening books at a rapid rate and staring as if to make up their own narrative just by looking at the illustrations inside their selected book.

ENTRANCE: The inter-leading doors between Love Books and the Service Station. 

Nicole Fritz, a long-standing customer of Love Books for the past five years, regularly visits the centre with her husband and two children. They frequently have their Sunday breakfast at the Service Station as it allows for their kids to come into Love Books and let their imaginations run wild.

The basket of easily-accessible books for young children, who are wanting to read on their own in the shop, allows for any child to come in and enjoy the books. The basket is piled with books that have been used by children over the years and is inclusive of all genres from fairy-tales and fantasy to fables and myths.

Fritz’s kids rush into Love Books in their Sunday best to pick up whatever they can get their hands on. Although they are at an age where they cannot read, they can be seen opening books at a rapid rate and staring as if to make up their own narrative just by looking at the illustrations inside their selected book.

READ: Used children’s books are ready to be read by any child who walks into the shop. 

Fritz explains that her family’s attraction to Love Books comes from the shop’s selection of titles and friendly staff. “It’s got a very different feel from like an Exclusive Books. We’ve got to know the people who are here and the staff are incredibly patient with my children so that’s a big thing.”

Maintaining good relationships with customers is an integral part of Love Book’s future. Every employee explains that being interested in people and what they are looking for is the reason customers return.

Joubert explains that she has journeyed with customers just by getting to know them. “There’s regulars that I have seen dating each other, breaking up and then asking me to witness their prenuptials and now they are parents of two-year-olds,” she says.

The journey of Love Books is far from over. Rogan sees herself running the shop for years to come and believes that being in a destination centre with no passing trade emphasises the importance of inter-leading doors drawing people into her shop. Her entrance will remain open to all customers of the Bamboo Centre while the words on the front stoep slowly fade away.

FEATURED IMAGE:  Kate Logan, owner of Love Books, glances at one of the many books on her shop’s shelves. Photo: Mary Sayegh.

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