The independent bookstore is a cultural and community hub – authors are introduced, works read aloud to an audience and ideas are shared.
Each month, we will be featuring an independent bookstore from across Canada, proving what a special role these shops play in fostering authors, community and a love of reading. For November, we are featuring Woozles bookstore in Halifax, Nova Scotia. You can follow them on Twitter and Facebook!
Tell us a little bit about the history of Woozle.
In the spring of 1978, three people agreed they couldn’t find the children’s books they wanted in Halifax – Liz & Brian Crocker and Ann Connor Brimer – and so the idea of a children’s bookstore was conceived. And then they noticed that an old house on Birmingham Street was for sale. It seemed the fates were aligned, the building was bought (along with a manual on bookselling and how to do accounting for small businesses), renovations were made books were ordered, a fabulous manager was hired, and Woozles opened its doors on Saturday, October 14, 1978. Opening day was overcast but people came by the hundreds (600 the first day) and Woozles has never looked back!
There have been so many milestones along the way…ranging from Woozles graduating from writing sales on pieces of paper to getting a cash register in 1986 and then a computer in the late 90’s…to the untimely death of Ann Connor Brimer in 1988…the two expansions of the building so that Woozles has now grown from its initial 600 sq. ft. to approximately 1500 sq. ft….the numerous authors and children’s performers who have crossed our threshold to delight young people (and adults too!)…to the retirement, after 30 years, of our first Manager, Trudy Carey, in 2009…to our newsletter which was first issued in October, 1978 and still is published 3 times a year, on-line and on paper! (I could go on and on here but hopefully that’s a bit of a flavour)
What made you want to open a bookstore?
This is somewhat answered above…it really was because three of us couldn’t find the books we wanted for children in Halifax – there were other bookstores but no one had a very extensive children’s section…and children’s books were our passion. We also strongly believed in the idea of a community resource for children and the line underneath “Woozles” is “A Place For and About Children”….our community bulletin board, our workshops, our support of various children’s organizations, our Battle of the Books program and our writing competition (which both support the love of writing and reading) give testimony to the fact that we believe we are more than a store…
What does the book-buying public understand least about independent bookstores?
Most people are familiar with a traditional retail model that marks everything up a certain amount to make profit and are not necessarily aware that things work differently with books. The fact that the publisher sets the price of each book and then gives bookstores a discount on that price makes things different in the sense that it limits the percentage which a bookstore is able to mark down a book without then actually losing money on the sale. This makes it look like we are deliberately refusing to discount our books the way that grocery stores or big box stores do but doesn’t allow customers to see the full story.
What is the hardest part about being a bookstore owner in 2012?
In one way, it’s not hard because we continue to love what we do and see the positive responses, every day, from children and parents when good books are discovered and shared. The media would like us all to believe that independent booksellers are on their way to being things of the past and, in this climate, we believe it is important to pay attention to actual trends rather than broad-stroke gloomy predictions. We believe the trends are saying that more people are reading than ever before – in paper format and on-line – even though there is tremendous competition for children’s time and attention. It would be great if authors, booksellers and publishers could come together and think creatively to ensure that good books continue to be written and published and sold by people who know them and love them.
What types of books does your store stock and/or specialize in?
As a specialty bookseller, we focus on books ‘for and about children’. We pride ourselves in having fabulous books for readers aged 0-18.
What are some of your favorite titles? Titles coming out this year?
Phewf. How long have you got? We are enormous fans of Oliver Jeffers, of Sandra Boynton, of Kenneth Oppel, of Sarah Dessen…the list goes on and on and on.
What are you reading right now?
Suzy is reading The Casual Vacancy for her adult bookclub (but she did just finish Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot!), and Lisa is reading Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes and the Friday Society by Adrienne Kress.
What is your most current best seller? Classic?
Where is the Green Sheep by Mem Fox, Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell and Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown are consistently at the top of our bestseller lists.
Right now, due to the recent release of Shauntay Grant’s new book, Apple and Butterflies, that is the #1 seller.
What have been some of your favorite (or most memorable) author events?
Barbara Cooney, Tamora Pierce, Robert Munsch.
Any strange, wild or crazy-but-true stories?
There was a period of time when we found handwritten notes on pieces of paper left in several books over several months. We dubbed the author of these notes the ‘caper of Woozles’. Incidentally, all of the notes were loosely about the end of the world.
We get a bit of a kick out of kids who come into the store and promptly take their coat and shoes off…because Woozles is situated in what was once a house (and still feels like a cozy house)
We were approached recently by a local ghosthunter who wanted to stay overnight and do an infrared recording of the potential bookstore ghost…but for security reasons one of the staff or owners would have had to sleep overnight in the store with the team, so it didn’t end up happening.
We once got a call from a gentleman who asked to see our books about taxidermy for an 8 year old. Not, do you have any, but where are the multitude of? We’ve also been asked about the location of our ‘Octopus section’.
What book are you, or will you, hand-sell with a vengeance?
What’s neat about this store, and about independent bookstores in general, is that our staff are knowledgeable, generous and helpful. And tastes vary all over the map. So depending on the day, you could encounter Mollie, who will no doubt sell you In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak or Suzy who will insist you take home Visitor for Bear. But if you meet Lisa, you’ll likely walk out with an armload of YA fiction, whereas Nadine might show you her favourite illustrated classic. We are passionate about what we do, and it is not formulaic in any way.
Is there anything else you would like to tell our blog readers?
We are deeply honoured to have the opportunity to do what we do every single day. Thanks for making the independent bookstore experience so special.
Lisa, Suzy and Liz