→ Sahni Mirmohamadi
3 Sparta Place, Brunswick
Santa Carla is an unassuming shop tucked away in Sparta Place – a pedestrian enclave of cafes, galleries and specialty shops that feels out of place amidst the bustling bridal district of Sydney Road. The first time I stumbled across it I felt like I had walked through a secret door into Narnia. Down the street from Santa Carla is a dog bathhouse where a canine blow wave treatment costs more than most human’s haircuts.
To brand Santa Carla as just a bookshop would be misleading of me. As well as books and comics it also stocks art, jewellery and gifts. The shop has a manifesto – championing independent work, mainly from Melbourne but also from outside Australia. It stocks only independent products and supports artists in the community by holding book launches and exhibitions.
The idea for the shop came from the owner Jode sitting around with her husband one night talking about all their favourite independent artists and producers. ‘We were talking about how great it would be if there was a shop that sold all our favourite artists’ work, 100 percent independent stuff.’ As we wandered around the shop together, Jode told me the story behind almost every book, graphic novel, and comic collection displayed on the shelves and tables. Every single product had a story. What sets Santa Carla apart from other bookshops is that Jode and her husband are so discerning with what products they stock. The result is a tightly curated collection of books and comics that give the shop an almost art gallery feel. They stock novels which are either fall, independent presses or self-published by the authors themselves. The focus is mainly on genre works, ranging from fantasy and sci-fi to noir. I didn’t recognise any of the covers I was browsing through, and I liked it. The prospect of being able to discover something I had never come across before and take it home with me felt special.
The graphic novels and comics on display encompass a range of art styles and genres. Interestingly, the comics are organised by audience age. The comics for all ages are displayed on one side while the comics for a more adult audience are up the other end, safe from children’s prying eyes with the counter as a handy buffer. ‘We generally don’t let children behind the counter so they don’t accidentally see something too old for them,’ Jode says. All the comics are independent and quite niche, so if you aren’t a comic aficionado you probably won’t recognise any titles, but if you ask Jode or her partner will explain their themes and stories, and recommend a series for you to try, just like they did for me.
So next time you’re in Brunswick and looking to escape the throng of bridal gowns and wedding invitation templates on Sydney Road, duck into Sparta Place into the world of independent art in all the many forms that art can take: stories and drawings, prints, jewellery and even DVDs, put together lovingly by passionate people. You could find something unique with a story behind it to cherish, take home with you, or give to a loved one. Or you could just find a really cool tote bag.