Kelly Hughes in what will be the new location of Aqua Books (CBC)
Books are great, people love books, but we do over 400 shows a year. Celebrating the creative things people do is what is going to draw people here.
—Kelly Hughes, Aqua Books
There is some literary light amongst these philistine times as Aqua
Books, under its new somewhat interchangeable "Winnipeg's Cultural City
Hall" banner, will be moving back its former area, the Exchange.
In April 2012 Aqua Books will get a new lease on life at 123 Princess St., not too far from its original location where it spent a solid five years.
It has been a turbulent year for Winnipeg's Aqua Books. In August 2011, Aqua Books' owner Kelly Hughes revealed that the location 274 Garry Street would be shutting its doors for good delivering what could have been a harsh blow to Winnipeg's downtown arts scene. The finances weren't good but after some love and support from the reading public Aqua Books managed to tread water and the plan was hatched to establish a new non-profit called Winnipeg's Cultural City Hall Inc. to take over operations and keep things going.
The new location won't be as big, but it will still offer all the amenities including a stage for shows, full bar, food, workshop space, and of course, books (but not nearly as many of them).
"Books are great, people love books, but we do over 400 shows a year" said Kelly Hughes in the new basement space on Princess St. "Celebrating the creative things people do is what is going to draw people here" Hughes continued.
The move is similar to other book retailers in the city who are trying to expand their business model beyond books. For example, McNally Robinson Booksellers just opened up a "Community Classroom" on February 1.
The move to a smaller, more event-orientated venue in the Exchange will both streamline the business for Hughes and fellow Cultural City Hall board members while lightening the financial costs. And once you first walk into the space it will also be more apparent as to what Aqua Books/Winnipeg's Cultural City Hall are there to offer.
"From a practical standpoint our rent here is going to be just over half of what our hydro bill was over there (at 274 Garry)" said Hughes. "To me the Exchange optimizes what Winnipeg is all about. It is where our friends at MTC and the Fringe are, its where Folkfest and Jazzfest is that I love... To me the Exchange is the jewel in the crown of the city."
And Hughes does not mince words when he talks about what he believes to the lifeblood of this city, and how the Exchange plays into that.
"We've been a bastion of great and interesting stuff over there [in the old location] for four years, and the only thing that people care about is the Jets" said Hughes. "To me when the Jets came back, and that kind of energy and excitement that people had, to me that's a kick in the nuts to all the great and interesting things that go on in Winnipeg" Hughes continues.
The logistics of the space are still to be sorted, from the hours of operation, to the amount of books on display, to the food (Hughes is leaning toward "cold and quick") to the way the bar will operate.
While the space is currently in rough condition (they just took over the lease), it does have the inherent charms of the Exchange from the beautiful exposed brick and beam, to the nostalgic air of being in an area that is so historically Winnipeg.
As far as clientelle, and continuing to capture Winnipeg's cultural scene, Hughes is again quite up front. "We want to be the space for interesting smart people" said Hughes. "We're not really chasing 20 year olds."
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There will be a fundraiser for the new space on March 3 at the Manitoba Theatre for Young Peole at the Forks. The event will be called "Hello 123" and Fred Penner and the Royal Canadian Navy Band of HMCS Chippawa will be playing.