The End: Canada's oldest bookstore shut down

Canada's oldest bookstore, located in Halifax, has come to the end of its final chapter and closed its doors on Saturday.

Canada's oldest bookstore, located in Halifax, has come to the end of its final chapter and closed its doors on Saturday.

The 169-year-old Book Room survived wars and the Great Depression, but couldn't outlast the vagaries of today's retail and economic realities.

"The market reality is really changing," said owner Charles Burchell, who described how a book was delivered to his store by mistake around Christmas time. The Book Room sits on the bottom of an apartment building; an online order was made by a tenant upstairs.

"The book was on our shelf, so they could have come down in two minutes and picked the book up, but they chose to order by computer and wait five [to] seven days for it to come in," Burchell told CBC Radio.

Burchell said the Christmas of 2007 was his worst on record in the 42 years he's run the bookstore.

He added that the straw that broke his store's back was the dual pricing of books, with higher prices in Canada than in the U.S.

He accused publishers of not reacting quickly enough to the rising Canadian dollar. Books take about three years before they reach the market, with the selling price already set. Burchell said that model is archaic in today's world.

Special ordering

The store has served the Halifax community since 1839, and customers said the closing will be like a family member gone missing or dying.

"Book people are quite close," noted Dawn Underwood, one of the shop's final clients.

"It's one of those … unique little, you know, sort of businesses where you know a lot of people and you're close with your customers, you're close with writers and … you become a family."

Burchell said the store's first owners fostered a strong bond with its customers. He said newspaper ads from the old days show how considerate the first owner was.

"It said that anybody wanting special books that he didn't have, to let him know before Christmas because the last ship leaving before the winter would take the request and it would come back in the spring when the ice was all gone with their special order books."

Carol Nielson, who has been a customer for 18 years, said she will miss the unique qualities that go with a local, independent bookstore. 

"Because it's rather small and personal compared with some of the larger ones, and you get to know the staff and they have provided good service."

It's not just bibliophiles bidding a sad goodbye. The store was also a special place to the area's authors, one of whom posted a farewell message on the Book Room's website.

"After months — sometimes years — of solitude working on our manuscripts, the Book Room would welcome us and make us feel special. It was a rite of passage," Allan Lynch wrote.