Old books and fresh coffee make a winning combination at Café Loco, adding to Featherston’s rebirth as a booktown. Set up by ex-Radio New Zealand broadcaster Kate Mead and husband Ross, Café Loco is a sociable hub where you might walk in to buy a cappuccino but find yourself stopping to scan the bookshelves. In the morning, tradies are the first to step through the purple-framed door to put the world to rights over a coffee and a paper in the lounge. Later, young mothers drop by for a chat and throughout the day a stream of locals and visitors call in for coffee, books or both.

“We have a regular from Hawkes Bay who buys a book as a present for his wife on his way back from Wellington,” says Kate.

“We want this to be a place where people feel they can fit in, contribute, relax and revive. There are quiet corners but we leave newspapers and some of the books out on tables, and they often spark discussion. People might be working on laptops at the high table (there’s free wifi) and they will stop and talk to each other. For people who have just moved into town and maybe have a partner working in Wellington, it’s good to have a place where they can meet other people,”  says Kate.

“I also try to make sure that I know what is happening around town so if someone comes and asks about classes or events I can tell them. And we put up posters for local events and have plenty of booklets and brochures.”

Work by local artist Megan Campbell hangs on the wall, and the laser-cut wooden shelf labels are made by a local craftsman.

“Local businesses do try to support each other here,” says Kate who credits the café’s previous owner, Emma Jackson, with helping to take the bookstore/café from concept to reality.

“Emma was not only our business guru when we started, she also taught me how to make coffee,” says Kate.

She’s been amazed by the support shown to her fledgling business both locally and beyond. Café Loco opened last year to a queue that trailed out the door and down the street, including some of Kate’s ex-colleagues from Radio New Zealand.

A cellist with a masters degree in musical composition, Kate has spent most of her career in broadcasting, working either for the BBC or Radio New Zealand where she was both a producer and presenter.

Kate is also operations director for Featherston’s Booktown initiative, something that she feels passionately about. Now into its third year, Featherston’s Booktown festival will run from 12-14 May. Kicking off with a fish and chip supper and a speech by guest speaker Lloyd Jones, the festival has a packed programme of almost 40 events including speakers, workshops and demonstrations celebrating all aspects of book production.

With its rich history, growing number of secondhand bookshops and creative community, Kate says that Featherston is a natural fit as a booktown.

A Booktown is a small rural town with a concentration of secondhand bookshops and a regular festival focusing on all things book-related. Booktowns such as Wales’ Hay-on-Wye or Clunes in Australia are among the most well-known, but there are 80 Booktowns around the world. Featherston is currently going through the process of becoming formally recognised as an international Booktown.

Featherston booktown : The festival will run from 12-14 May. For full details of events, visit www.booktown.org.nz