As two long-standing used book stores in Winnipeg prepare to close their doors, two others are soldiering on, adapting their business to the shifting landscape of retail in order to stay open.
The Family Book Exchange, 519 St. Mary’s Road, was the second used book store in Winnipeg to announce its closure last week.
"After 50 years, Family Book Exchange is now closing," said a post on the store’s website. "All books are being sold at $1 each to clear inventory."
This, just a few days after Nerman’s Books and Collectibles at 700 Osborne Street announced it would be shutting down after that building was sold.
Burton Lysecki Books has been selling used books on south Osborne for more than 51 years now. Co-owner Karen Sigurdson said they’re keeping their doors open – but just one day a week.
"It’s different now, we’ve cut back our hours … we’re only open one day a week on Saturdays, because that matches the demand.”
"We’ve got fairly good foot traffic today, but if we were open more days, we wouldn’t necessarily have more people," she said.
It’s a similar problem faced by Book Fair, located downtown at 340 Portage Avenue.
"I figured they would have more traffic than we would, because a lot of people are scared to come downtown," said co-owner Judy Weselowski.
Despite remaining open, Book Fair has been keeping its front doors closed – locked, in fact. Customers must ring a doorbell in order to be let in to browse the store’s massive selection of used books, comics, and collectibles.
Weselowski said that practice began during the pandemic, "At the beginning of COVID when we were allowed to open up, we had to restrict how many people we had to have in the store … and we just got used to it being locked, the customers got used to it being locked."
She said the system has been working well for a business in Winnipeg’s struggling downtown core.
"Keeping the door locked, customers are quite happy with that. I mean, we lose the odd one that come try the door and off they go. That’s basically people who wanted to cut up the stairs," Weselowski said.
She added the store’s skywalk entrance was closed during the pandemic, and they have not had a reason to re-open it.
Weselowski said Book Fair continues to suffer from a lack of downtown office workers, "They’re not coming in," she said. "(The) customer says ‘you’re not going to see me for half a year because I’m going to be working from home.’"
She said their location is also hurting them right now, "We’re suffering from parking, we’re suffering from downtown stigma."
Burton Lysecki Books has adapted by moving most of its business online, selling rare and collectible books through an e-commerce website.
"That’s how we’ve survived," said Sigurdson.
"We ship books all over the country, and all over the States, so that’s good for us, I don’t have any problem with online book sales," she added.
"That’s the way it is, that’s what you have to do to stay in the market."
The store has shipped books as far away as Australia, Japan, and India, among other countries.
Closer to home, Sigurdson said opening from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. only on Saturdays has actually been a good thing.
"People come every Saturday, they start to get to know each other, its fun like that. It’s like a club," she said.
Sigurdson believes bookstores are an important part of our culture, "If you want to have a good culture of books in Winnipeg, come to the book stores, support the book stores. It’s a cultural thing."
Otherwise, she thinks we will see more local book stores close, "These little book stores, they won’t last … they’re closing up. They don’t last because they don’t have enough foot traffic."
Weselowski agrees owning a used book store has been a struggle.
"We’re plugging along just getting our bills paid, and it’s not really anything extra," she said. "Being owners, we’re the last to get paid if there’s money."
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