Bourne Identity: Syber's Books

Also known as "the shop with the cats", Syber's has become a Melbourne institution

Penny Syber has heard all sorts of rude remarks and inappropriate comments about her cats over the last 19 years.

"One woman came storming into the shop to tell me she was going to report me to the RSPCA for trapping a defenceless kitty in a hot shop window. I didn’t have time to tell her that the cats are free to roam and actually choose to sit in the sunny window spot; she’d already stormed back out.”

Another woman tried to buy one of Penny’s three cats so that it could keep her company in her own shop.

“She didn’t seem to realise that they are not specially trained cats or a unique breed that’s designed to charm customers. I said no, of course.”

Penny’s bookshop, Syber’s Books, is a Chapel Street institution, and a true tale of book lovers. It opened after Penny and David Syber met over sherry at the Friday night social gatherings held by South Yarra’s Pig’s Wings Books. A little under a decade later, David bought Penny a bookshop of her own opposite Windsor Station and it seemed only logical that Telzy the cat would keep her company during the day. Penny got two more cats, Pixel and Meera (now deceased), and became known as “that eccentric cat lady”.

“I would be shot if I didn’t have cats in my shop,” she says fondly of the newest round of residents, Telzy, Pixel and Meera – bonus points to you if you can pick the fictional characters they’re named after). “There would be riots on the street.”

Not much has changed about Syber’s in the last 19 years, and that’s just the way Penny likes it. It is a secondhand haven of wooden shelves brimming with fantasy, science fiction, Australian history, world history, biographies, poetry, crime fiction and paperback literature.

“The strange part of having been here so long is welcoming students back as adults, and seeing baby bumps become little boys and girls,” she says. And while she’ll concede that “the digital age is upon us for good or evil,” she’ll continue to have a private chuckle whenever someone orders at her online store that only needs posting as far as the next suburb.

Syber's Books, 38 Chapel St, Windsor


1983 Penny and David Syber meet over sherry at Pigs' Wings Books

1991 All of the Friday-night sherry crowd and most of the Melbourne Science Fiction Club attend their wedding

1992 David buys Penny her shopfront on Chapel Street and her collection of amphibian ornaments and cats begins

2006 Syber’s Books goes online

2011 – 2012 Telzy, Pixel and Meera go to Cat Heaven and Penny and David adopt three new felines from the cat rescue society

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First published on 1 Jun 2014. Updated on 2 Jun 2014.

By Hilary Simmons   |  

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