Owner of Edmonton's longest-standing independent bookstore retires

After 50 years in the book business, the co-owner of Audreys Books is turning a page.

‘We have learned to dance on our feet’ says Audreys Books co-owner

Sharon Budnarchuk bought Audreys Books in 1988. It is Edmonton's oldest independent bookstore. (Ariel Fournier/CBC)

After 50 years in the book business, the co-owner of Audreys Books is turning a page.

Sharon Budnarchuk retired on Sunday from her work with the downtown independent bookstore. 

Her lengthy career in the book industry has had many chapters. 

Budnarchuk got her start in 1969, when she was a university student in Winnipeg and worked as a textbook buyer for Classic Books, a bookstore chain that was later swallowed up in a merger with Chapters Inc.

She was a full-time book buyer for Classic Books when she was transferred to Edmonton in the early 1970s.

For a decade, she worked as a book agent until 1988 when she and her husband Steve purchased Audreys.

Audreys Books, which set up on Jasper Avenue in 1975, is now Edmonton's oldest independent bookstore, and the only one still standing that exclusively sells new releases.  

But it wasn't always easy. Budnarchuk said she and her husband faced many obstacles along the way. 

"We have learned to dance on our feet," she told Edmonton's Radio Active on Tuesday. 

The store managed to stay afloat when many downtown Edmonton businesses struggled. 

She helped the neighbourhood recover from a difficult economic period when she became the first female president of the downtown business association in 1993. 

Retail changes

Her bookstore has also had its challenges over the years. Audreys was forced to change its business model when Chapters became the dominant bookseller in Canada.

"We moved away from bestsellers because that's what chains had," she said.

The bookstore instead focused on promoting local authors and catering to special requests from clients. 

"We started to create very good history sections, very good psychology sections — to the point where we do big conferences in that area and we're known for it," the Audreys co-owner said. 

A 1992 copy of the magazine Edmonton Woman features Audreys owner, Sharon Budnarchuk. (Edmonton Woman Magazine)

Despite the changes in the book industry, Budnarchuk said the business owners have been lucky to do something they both love. 

"My husband and I will be married for 50 years in August and only five [of those years] we didn't work together. That deserves a medal I think," she said. 

Author friendships

Over the years, she became close with many of the authors who toured for publicity events. 

"People like Pierre Berton and Peter Newman, and [Peter] Gzowski and Margaret Atwood were on a first-name basis," she said.

"We could meet anywhere, chit-chat and talk about family and friends."

Surprisingly, she said the writer who made the biggest impression was a politician. 

She met Britain's former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at a book fair in Miami over tea, when Thatcher was promoting her autobiography. 

Budnarchuk recalls former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was one of the most memorable people she met during her literary career. (Sharon Budnarchuk)

"I've never met someone so single-minded and so completely sure of herself," Budnarchuk said. 

"Some people have an aura. They walk into a room and even if your back is turned, you know that something is there and you have to turn around," she said.

The next chapter

Although her time with the bookstore has come to an end, Budnarchuk promises to not leave the literary community behind.

Her family will take control of the store while Budnarchuk enjoys retirement. 

"I'm going to read without feeling guilty about all the paperwork on my desk," she said.


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