Murrie from The Press Book House

Murrie Harris. Photography by Jim Graham from   Hunter Hunter   blog.

Murrie Harris. Photography by Jim Graham from Hunter Hunter blog.

Murrie Harris and partner Ivy Ireland combined their passions of coffee (him) and books (her) to create a life that suited them. Almost two years ago, they opened The Press Book House, catering to the bean-lovers and literature enthusiasts of Newcastle.

Coffee enthusiast Murrie Harris and his partner, poet and booklover Ivy Ireland, combined their passions and are making a life out of it.

In April 2013, a little secondhand bookstore/coffee shop opened on Hunter Street in Newcastle. Appropriately named The Press Book House, it flew largely under the radar and the launch party is still waiting to happen. But in its unexpected location, The Press has grown to have a solid following, with Novocastrian coffee lovers flocking to taste the delicious bean and fresh-baked sourdough supplied by Uprising. They now host book launches and poetry readings and are looking forward to an Easter renovation to allow even more space to host events. Movie night, anyone?

"As long as you believe in it, there’s no way you can really fail. There’s nothing stopping you. As cliché as that is."

Around the same time the business opened, Murrie and Ivy welcomed their daughter, Poppy, into the world. “It was kind of like having two babies. It’s been hectic but we just went for it. Head towards the fear, not away from the fear.” With Ivy playing mum at the moment, Murrie is in at the shop six days a week, with friends coming in to help out during the busy morning coffee rushes. We met over a coffee and a chinwag one afternoon, when the space becomes “quieter, more like a bookshop” and lone caffeine addicts scribble over their notebooks and laptops in the nooks and crannies of The Press.

Murrie is a fairly soft-spoken dude and he takes his time getting the words out. But when he does, they’re gold. It’s pretty raw, watching the cogs turning when you ask him a question. A self-confessed hardcore people watcher, Murrie admits it’s the people he interacts with each day that get him going. “There are big movers and shakers who come in. Hearing little pieces of their stories. It all interests me. Seeing how people go about their world.”

Fun facts: Ivy won Australian Young Poet of the Year in 2007, and Murrie was until recently part of the Newcastle-based band The Main Guy & The Other Guys. Yep, they’re cool.

What advice do you have for other rookies?

As long as you believe in it, there’s no way you can really fail. There’s nothing stopping you. As cliché as that is. A lot of time goes into it. Depending on what it is you choose to do. There’s nothing stopping you. Also, do the math. See what’s realistic. I’m all about start small and see what works first. Don’t try and resist things that aren’t working. All the pieces fall into place. It’s pretty cliché.

[Murrie leaves to answer phone, when he gets back he can’t remember what he was saying. A friendly graphic designer, whom I later learn is named Dom and who will definitely feature here (watch this space), chimes in to brilliantly summarise.]

Dom: Basically, two things about starting a business. Do your research, and you’re never going to fail as long as you’re learning something.

Murrie: Dom and I did NEIS together.

What’s NEIS?

Dom: It’s the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme. It’s through Centrelink, kind of. They support you for your first year and as you go on, you get mentored and learn skills and everything.

Murrie: It’s a good way to start. It’s a five week course. Dom’s a graphic designer. (Watch this space).

Who’s the coolest person you know?

You know you can picture the cool kids at school that never stopped being cool? Just getting flown around and doing cool shit and then dying on a motorbike or something. Because even that’s cool. [laughs]

Follow @thepressbookhouse on Instagram!

Follow @thepressbookhouse on Instagram!

Take me back to the beginning.

I found Ivy. We got together. Six months later we thought it’d be a good idea to work on something together. She worked in secondhand books, she’s a writer and a poet. We had the idea of opening a book shop that sold coffee. There was nothing like it at the time. Now, it’s almost a café that sells books, which is fine, that’s the way it’s going. But it’s more about the coffee because everyone’s on the bean.

What did you do before The Press?

I have done so many things. I used to ride pedicabs. You know, three drunk people, rickshaw at the back? From The Brewery to what was then Fanny’s. I made surfboards. Yeah. So many things. I used to do a lot of acting and directing and doing shows, mainly on the Central Coast. That was my background. I got into music and dance and that scene. That’s what my thing is. That’s what it used to be. I had to give up the band I was in when we had the baby and the business. I worked in coffee. On and off.

How did it all start?

Good question. Apart from us both believing in our little worlds… Ivy believing in books and me loving coffee, just bringing it together… we looked at options, taking on a bookstore and putting coffee in it. There were difficulties. So we ended up starting our own bookstore from scratch. Going to book fairs, finding a premise. With some good quality books that Ivy already had in her house. From the start, a lot of the good stock, esoteric stuff, was from Ivy’s collection. We thought we wouldn’t have much to start with but keep building it up. Everything else just came.

Where do the books come from?

We were very lucky, a week before we opened, a book collector passed away, he used to have his own store in Newcastle years ago. His unit was filled with boxes of books, literally stacked to the ceiling you couldn’t even enter the room. We got the call and it just fell into our laps. Great. All for free. Excellent. We were still selective and have to be because of the size of the shop. We drive to book fairs, the furthest would be Canberra. Garage sales, deceased estates. Often people bring in books they want to sell.

How long did it take for you to open?

From idea to fruition, about six months. We kept going back and forth with each other, ‘are we serious, are we going to do this?’ It’s a heaps short time. I think that’s why it worked. It just came at the right time. Here’s a café that just closed up. Here’s a deceased estate with all these free books. But when we were opened we were six months pregnant, which was even more crazy. It was like having two babies at once. It’s still been hectic. We didn’t even see that coming. So we just went for it. There wasn’t too much time of trying to plan something. Head towards the fear, not away from the fear.

How often are you open?

I’m here six days a week. And we do book launches, poetry readings. There’s a publishing company called Puncher and Wattman who have done a few launches here, and they’re publishing Ivy’s book soon.

So you have a lot of writerly types.

It’s good to have Ivy for that reason. Although she doesn’t feel much like an artist anymore because of the time consumption of having a baby, that’s been hard for her, not having time to write and be creative. Sometimes we tag team it. So I’ll take Poppy for the afternoon and she will come in and work the shop.

What’s the best thing about running your own business?

Playing vinyl all day, the music, Tom Waits is playing now. Decorating how you want, choosing where people sit, the cups. Everything. Refusing to serve people when they’re on their phone, or charging them more, or if they want more than three sugars. The rewards are endless. I don’t know if it’s the work I enjoy or if it’s my own business, that I love coming in here every day. No matter what I’ve done, I would always get bored and have to move on within six months. Not now. I love it. Get up at 6, no worries. Come into work all day and enjoy it, have chats and laughs with people. You believe in it so much, there’s no stopping people with that belief.

What does a day in the life of Murrie look like?

Get up. I’m straight out the door.  No breakfast. I lay my clothes out the night before. Jump in my clothes. Might have a drink of water and wash my face, that’s it. Straight on my postie bike, Kahibah to here. Straight in early to open up. I warm up the space, put some music on. Then I brush my teeth, do my hair if I have to. Shave. I can do it all here. Here is the priority. Open at 7am, staff come in for a few hours maybe. Close to 4ish I’ll go home, spend time with the family. Cook dinner. Wash the baby, clothe the baby, put the baby to bed. Like clockwork. Then I’ll see Ivy. Maybe watch a TV series we love.

What are you watching?

Currently watching The Knick. Starring Clive Owen. We love Clive Owen. It’s very good. Write that down.

[I wrote it down. I’ve started watching it. So good.]

Try to pick up the guitar right before I go to bed, which is about midnight.

What’s the future plan?

Work on the business more rather than work in it. So I can be here less and get some perspective, see room for growth.