MELBOURNE, Australia – Iconic occult bookstore, The Haunted Bookshop is likely to close its doors after 22 years following the rejection of a new lease application being refused due to the landlord’s “spiritual beliefs.”
The shop’s manager Drew Sinton has filed a religious discrimination complaint.
Rental Prices Soar in the City of Literature
The grandchildren of the elderly owner of the building that currently houses Sinton’s MacKillop Street shop more than doubled his rent after the owner passed away recently.
“Obviously, being a small independent bookshop, this was an increase I could not afford,” Sinton told TWH.
“So on the 6th of June Luke Conquest [of Conquest Estate Agency] informed me my lease would not be renewed when it expires on the 1st of October and my shop will be replaced by a shoe store selling Nike and Adidas runners – so much for Melbourne being a UNESCO City of Literature since four other local bookshops closed or announced closure in June.”
Melbourne joined the UNESCO Creative Cities Network in 2008 when it was designated the first and only City of Literature in Australia, and the second in the world.
The Melbourne City of Literature website states that this designation was made in recognition of a number of factors, including “Melbourne’s urban environment in which literature is integral,” and “Melbourne’s libraries, bookstores and cultural centres.”
“A slap in the face and a sign of disrespect”
Unable to afford the steep rent increase and discouraged by the high rents at other properties he looked at, Sinton had considered closing the store completely.
“Initially my plan was to close the shop all together [sic] on the grounds most landlords I spoke to were asking ridiculous rents for largely unsuitable properties,” he told TWH.
“…but then on the 25th of June I saw a property which looked interesting because it seemed affordable and was just across the road from the end of my lane.”
The Bourke Street property is managed by estate agent Alexandra Harper of Commercial Real Estate, who conducted an inspection of the property with Mr Sinton on the 25th of June. During the inspection, Ms Harper informed Sinton that the owner of the new property was “a high-profile member of the Buddhist community” who “said that ghosts were demons.”
“I did not take much notice of this comment,” Sinton told TWH, “since I saw the landlord had no problem owning a multi-million-dollar carpark, and was obviously not a vegetarian since he had McDonald’s as a tenant.”
However, after Mr Sinton provided Ms Harper with everything she needed, including photographs and a rendering of proposed signage for her client’s property, the next day she returned an email which read “Hi Drew, I sent through the render, images of your shop and your website and unfortunately due to the landlord’s spiritual beliefs he is not willing to put the Haunted book shop in his asset.”
“The rejection email was a slap in the face and a sign of disrespect for someone like me who does stock books on Buddhism (which Ms Harper photographed when she inspected the inside of my shop), is a vegetarian, does not own property and has lived below the poverty line for the past 22 years in order to pay all business expenses first,” Sinton said to TWH. “What a hypocrite, I thought, and what blatant discrimination.”
Ms Harper would not divulge the name of the owner to Mr Sinton, but Simon Johanson’s article in The Age on July 1st revealed it to be multimillionaire city landlord and property developer David Yu, whose company Ausvest Holdings owns 41 properties around Melbourne.
Yu is also known for his purchase of a French Renaissance style 19 room mansion in the affluent suburb of Toorak, which he has left vacant since its purchase in 1995, after several rejected proposals to demolish the house and develop the land.
Buddhism and Witchcraft
The world’s fourth-largest religion, Buddhism comprises a number of different beliefs, practices and traditions, mostly based on original teachings attributed to the Buddha and resulting philosophies and interpretations.
While it is unclear which tradition of Buddhism Yu follows, the seventh of the 36 sramanera/sramanerika precepts in Tibetan Buddhism counsels adherents to avoid, “… lying in which one claims to have spiritual realizations or powers that one does not have.”
The 36 precepts are vows usually taken by male monks (sramanera) and female monks (sramanerika) at their time of ordination, but they are also sometimes taken by laity as part of significant initiations, elevations or empowerments.
After seeking legal advice, Mr Sinton has lodged a complaint with the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
In the state of Victoria, it is against the law to discriminate against a person because of their religious beliefs or activities, actual or assumed.
A change.org petition “Keep the Haunted Bookshop Open!” has also been set up, encouraging the Victorian State Government to step in and help save the Haunted Bookshop.
“Every human being is entitled to the freedom of expression and right to practice their faith without persecution as per the United Nations human rights conventions. In denying a business lease on the grounds that it goes against the religion of another is unacceptable and foolish when such a business attracts visitors from various parts of the globe and interstate to shop and attend the ghost tours.” – Change.org petition description
When asked for comment, President and founder of the Pagan Awareness Network (PAN) inc David Garland was supportive of the complaint being lodged but not surprised at what had taken place.
“I shouldn’t be surprised with the current environment in Australia, where we seem to be getting more and more conservative.” Garland said to TWH. “This is in my opinion a clear case of religious discrimination and I will be following with interest.”
PAN’s mission statement is to actively correct misinformation, to raise community awareness, to educate and to foster the growth of the Pagan community.
A Cornerstone of Melbourne Occulture for over Two Decades
The Haunted Bookshop opened in 1997. In those early days, local witches Buddhy Gilbert, Josephine Langerac, and Samantha Pierlot ran Witchcraft and Spellcraft workshops in the back room of the shop before Spellbox opened in nearby Royal Arcade. Other workshops included Psychic Development, Mediumship, Seances, Psychic Vampirism, and Ghosthunting which later became the Haunted Melbourne Ghost Tour, now in its 22nd year.
Sinton told TWH that Melbourne witch and artist Vali Myers used to pop into the shop. Belgrave witch Kerry Kulkens signed copies of her books in the back room. Other writers who Sinton could remember dropping into the shop include ceremonial magician and author Dr Stephen Skinner, chaos magician and Tarot artist Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule, Tarot author Mary K Greer, Tantra and Tattwa author Dr Jonn Mumford, witchcraft author Ly De Angeles, Halloween author Chris Kullstroem, horror author Tania Donald, and astrology author Angelica Danton, who also worked at the shop in the early days.
Australian Witchcraft Magazine writer and editor Caroline Tully was also a regular. “Until Spellbox and later Muses of Mystery opened, The Haunted Bookshop was one of the only places that Melbourne Witches and Pagans could actually get interesting and rare books in the city,” Tully told TWH. “…especially since the Theosophical Bookshop scaled down its Occult section – everyone used to go to the Theosophical, but in the last two decades they’ve been going to The Haunted Bookshop.”
For two decades the Haunted Bookshop was also at the centre of Melbourne’s Goth, Satanic and Vampire scene.
Sinton told TWH, “[the shop was] opposite one of Melbourne’s leading nightclubs, DV8, now closed, and close to nearby alternative shops Deviate Shop, Wildilocks, Missing Link, Metal For Melbourne, Downtown Revolution, Peril Underground and Highway to Hell, all now gone from the city. Legendary Goth shop Mortisha’s, also gone, made the drapes for the shop as well as my ghost tour costume, which I wear to this day.”
Melbourne Satanist Michael Nero ran free Saturday afternoon sessions in the back room of the shop called Salon Noir where local Goths got together to discuss all things occult, vampiric, and paranormal.
Richard Davis, author of Ghost Guide To Australia and UFO author Keith Basterfield both visited the shop along with Most Haunted’s Derek Acorah who “talked about buying Aleister Crowley’s Boleskine House.”
In 1998, Melbourne filmmaker Jamie Blanks launched his US-made movie Urban Legend at the Haunted Bookshop. Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro visited the shop twice during filming of his movie Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark. Actress and comedian Mary-Anne Fahey, comedian Frank Woodley and comedy duo The Scared Weird Little Guys are among the Australian celebrities that Sinton remembers visiting his shop over the years.
In 2007, Melbourne film maker and paranormal enthusiast Stelios Kokotos approached Sinton to host Mystical Guides Haunted Australia, which he did for a dozen episodes screening on Channel 31 then Foxtel.
In 2018, The Haunted Bookshop also became home to the entire occult collection of Australian paranormal writer John Pinkney after his passing.
An episode of reality TV show The Real Housewives of Melbourne was shot at the Haunted Bookshop as well as scenes from the movie Witch Hunt, which was inspired by the Family cult leader Anne Hamilton-Byrne.
An episode of “Loves Me, Loves Me Not” was also shot at the shop. The show was produced by Rhonda Byrne shortly before she published her million-dollar bestseller, “The Secret.”
“Rhonda bought the ‘Satanic Bible’ from me during the shoot which might give you a clue to where she got at least some of her ideas,” Sinton told TWH, “as did… documentary maker and author John Safran who may have used Anton LaVey’s book as inspiration for his book ‘Depends What You Mean by Extremist.’”
Giving Up the Ghost after September
Sinton’s plan thus far is to close the bookshop by the end of his current lease.
In a public Facebook post he said, “Melbourne’s iconic Haunted Bookshop at 15 McKillop Street is closing in September after 22 years. This gives you ample time to use your Haunted Bookshop gift voucher either at the bookshop or to transfer it to The Haunted Melbourne Ghost Tour which, from October, will commence at The Mitre Tavern in nearby Bank Place. Thank you for your support over the years.”
At the time of publication, this post had been shared almost 200 times and the shop had received an outpouring of support and well wishes online.
“I am so completely and utterly devastated by this news,” one commenter said. “This book store was one of the best things about travelling to the City of Melbourne, what has happened to the awesome alternative city I used to love? Melbourne is truly letting tourists down across the board lately.”
When speaking to TWH, Caroline Tully had similar thoughts. “Drew sells new and second hand Occult books, tarot decks and objects, and for a long time no one else in central Melbourne did that,” Tully said. “He also knows what he’s talking about in regard to a range of intriguing and diabolical topics and as far as I know, in regard to his particular areas of expertise, no one else is doing that.”
“Obviously I find it discriminatory that the landlord of the shop that Drew wants to lease has a problem with Drew’s spiritual beliefs.”
I see that [Sinton] has lodged a religious discrimination complaint with the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission which I think is the right thing to do.
There is nothing like The Haunted Bookshop elsewhere in Melbourne, and if it has to close because it can’t find a storefront it will be outrageous, as well as one more nail in the coffin of actual ink and paper bookshops in this city. A city the size of Melbourne should have many bookshops (new and second hand). I think the agent was foolish to mention that the landlord refused Drew’s application because of the landlord’s spiritual beliefs, as it’s just going to cause more trouble for them now. On the other hand, it’s good publicity for The Haunted Bookshop.
When asked by TWH about his plans for after his shop closed, Sinton replied, “maybe moving in with the possums in Flagstaff Gardens and starting my own religion called Sintonism. First commandment? No landlords!”