Aqua Books closing its doors

Downtown Winnipeg's largest bookstore is closing shop.
Aqua Books and EAT! bistro are closing their doors, blaming a cultural shift away from reading. (Google Street View)

Downtown Winnipeg's largest bookstore is closing shop.

Aqua Books, which stocks some 40,000 books in a 9,000-square-foot space, claims to be Western Canada's second-busiest arts and cultural venue (after Banff), drawing more than 10,000 people to readings — more than 350 annually — book launches, workshops, concerts, plays, film screenings, lectures and shows.

The store is also home to EAT! bistro, which will also shut its doors, said bookstore owner Kelly Hughes.

The bistro was run by Hughes' partner, Candace.

"Candace and I are, quite honestly, pretty devastated to announce that the doors of Aqua Books and EAT! bistro will be closing forever. We've had a great ride, but unfortunately the financial burden has become too much," he announced in an email.

'We've had a great ride, but unfortunately the financial burden has become too much.'—Kelly Hughes

Hughes, who referred to the store as Winnipeg's cultural city hall, and to himself as mayor, blamed the decision on a "cultural shift away from reading."

"Smart phones, Facebook, and the internet are all part of what has replaced reading time. I won't beat it to death, but it's an irreversible change in people's habits," he stated in an email.

"You may still read and love books as much as you always have, but you are now in the minority. Book sales here have dropped 30 per cent in the last year."

Aqua Books was also the location of Kelly Hughes Live! a TV-style talk show on a stage set up on the second level of the store, complete with an applause meter — but without TV cameras.


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As well, the store, at 274 Garry Street, is one of only two bookstores in Canada with a residence program for artists. There are three on-site studios for the use of artists, songwriters, photographers or writers.

Opened in 1999 at a smaller location on Notre Dame Avenue, it moved to the current location in 2008 and began its evolution into a cultural centre.

The store became the title sponsor of the Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for Poetry, awarded annually to the best full-length adult book of poetry in either French or English by a resident of Manitoba.

"We have won awards, and mentions in Maclean's and Quill & Quire, and even a few hearts and minds, but turning all of this goodwill into enough cash to support such an ambitious project has in the end eluded me," Hughes wrote.

He didn't say when the doors will close for the final time.

"We look forward to seeing you in the next few weeks as we wind down. Until I tell you different, we will be on regular hours and all scheduled events will go forward as planned," he wrote.

"We want to have more of a wake than a funeral."