New Brunswick

Meet the octogenarian bookseller still working 6 days a week

Sitting down and reading a book is “hard work” for a lot of people, acknowledges antique book dealer Dave Shoots. But there's life in the printed word yet.

'I was brought up to enjoy reading,' says Dave Shoots, as he prepares to celebrate at his Saint John shop

The octegenarian owner of Dave Shoots Bookseller stands in a room of aging volumes wearing a shy smile.
Dave Shoots, 79, continues to work six days a week at his shop at 40 Coburg St. in Saint John. (Julia Wright)

Sitting down and actually reading a book is "hard work" for a lot of people these days, antique book dealer Dave Shoots acknowledges.

But as Shoots prepares to mark his 80th birthday this Saturday, he isn't particularly concerned about the long-forecast death of the printed word.

"People who are easily distracted depend on the noise and excitement of TV or the computer," he said, but "people who are able to picture things in their mind and appreciate the value of being alive, and being able to respond to ideas, are still reading.

A man examines one of the many old books for sale in a store filled with bookcases.
Shoots examines a 19th-century pulpit Bible, one of the the many rare books in the store. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

"It requires concentration, and a regular schedule. Slowly and carefully — that's the only way I know how to do things."

"There have been times in my life when I had to move quickly at somebody else's demand, or command. Now, I find an easygoing plod is the only way."

Labourer, flea-marketer, minister

True to his word, Shoots has taken a long and unhurried path to his current job as a dealer in antique books.

He studied journalism in the United States, then did a master of divinity before ministering at a number of Methodist churches. In the ensuing decades, he worked variously in advertising, as a photocopier technician, security guard, pub maintenance worker and farm worker, from Ohio to Ontario.

On the side, he acquired "small collectible items, things made of brass, old licence plates, a few books" to sell at flea markets. He settled in Saint John in 1998 to be closer to his daughter.

"I like the old buildings and the fact that it is on the water," he said, "and the easygoing nature of the people. The uptown is small. Everybody knows everybody."

In 2000, Shoots struck a partnership with the late bookseller Terry Keleher, who offered to let Dave run his Coburg Street storefront and keep half the profit. A few years later, Shoots and his daughter expanded their floor space in the early 19th-century building.

Off the beaten track

The unhurried pace has worked well. Dave Shoots, Bookseller at 40 Coburg St. will mark 17 years in business this summer.

"We are very fortunate here, with this very old building that we appreciate," Shoots said. "We're off the beaten track, so our rent is probably half of what it would be in King Street."

The early 19th-century storefront at 40 Coburg has housed Dave Shoots's bookshop for 17 years this summer. (Roger Cosman /CBC)

On May 27, the bookshop will host an open house from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to celebrate Shoots's 80th birthday. Books published in 1937 will be 20 per cent off. In lieu of gifts, his daughter Wendy has requested guests bring donations of non-perishables for the local food bank.

"I am looking forward to Saturday with some trepidation," Shoots said. "Wendy has told everyone in New Brunswick, and I start to worry what will happen if everyone shows up."

No desire to retire

Shoots isn't doing as much heavy lifting these days. His daughter, he said, is responsible for running the business and sourcing old and out-of-print hardcovers with a special focus on Saint John and local history titles.

But he has no desire to stop coming in to work six days a week.

Cancer surgery in 2014, followed by months of complications, was "the longest I've been away from the shop," he said.

"I was in the hospital from July to November — but I came in right after that within a few days. I enjoy it. I was brought up to enjoy reading."

Shoots examines one of the oldest books in the store, an 18th-century copy of Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans. (Roger Cosman/ CBC)

Shoots feels it's appropriate to mark his milestone birthday in the bookshop.

"As long as Wendy can put up with me, and as long as I can manage, both in my balance and my mental abilities, I will keep coming in," he said.

"There are always more titles, always more books, that you never dreamed existed."