Owner closing the book on longtime Saskatoon consignment bookstore

The final chapter of Books Unlimited is being written this month. The Saskatoon consignment bookstore on College Drive across from the University of Saskatchewan campus is closing its doors after more than 40 years in business.

Online textbooks and pandemic contributed to the bookstore shutting down, says owner

Lyle Fitzgerald has owned Books Unlimited for 33 years. (Scott Larson/CBC News)

The final chapter of Books Unlimited is being written this month.

The Saskatoon consignment bookstore on College Drive across from the University of Saskatchewan campus is closing its doors after more than 40 years in business.

Lyle Fitzgerald has owned Books Unlimited, the go-to place for students to find used textbooks, for the past 33 years.

He said the writing has been on the wall for the bookstore's closure for the past few years and COVID-19 just accelerated that timeline.

"Sales have been going down as more and more books disappear, more and more classes are offered online and online information, so you don't need as many textbooks, it's the general trend in technology," Fitzgerald said.

And with classes going online this fall it meant few customers.

"It has been the quietest September I've ever seen," Fitzgerald said. "I would say my sales are down to about a fifth or a quarter of what they normally would have been. 

Lyle Fitzgerald got into the book business because it seemed simple. 33 years later, and he still loves the simplicity in his life, but things have gotten a bit more complicated at Books Unlimited. Primarily, he sold textbooks and those sales have been waning for years. Guest host Jennifer Quesnel speaks with Lyle Fitzgerald about the October closing date that's coming up. 6:07

Fitzgerald said he bought the business while in search of a new career.

"What attracted me to this bookstore … was the extreme simplicity of it. I had no business background at all and this was just basically a paper and pencil type system. There is no stock to order because you sold everything on consignment. The place itself was rented. So it was a very simple business to run and I could start it right away."

While the majority of the business is textbooks, Fitzgerald also had thousands of general fiction paperbacks.

He reckons he still has 10,000 to 20,000 books on hand.

Books Unlimited will close its doors in October. (Scott Larson/CBC News)

Fitzgerald has been talking to a couple of potential buyers for the books, but he said even charities don't want most of the textbooks "and they'll probably end up going for paper recycling."

He said he'll miss the conversations with his customers.

"You could not ask for a better clientele in the university students. They're very friendly, very interesting and right now, you've got students and professors from all over the world," Fitzgerald said. "And just the general neighbourhood is a very friendly, supporting group of people."

He's made a lot of friends over the years.

"It is either a frantically busy job in September and January where you didn't even have time to think, or in the winter months, it'd be just the opposite.You would be sitting there with a newspaper and a cup of coffee and yapping with the customers about their favourite science fiction book or something." 

While the bookstore may be closing, Fitzgerald will still be spending plenty of time reading.

"I'm a fanatic reader," he said. "I've always got to have a paperback with me. If I go to a restaurant or something like that, I've got to have a book with me … there are worse things to be addicted to."

Fitzgerald was worried he might be bored in retirement but he got a sneak peek of what it would be like when he had to close down due the pandemic.

"Since I was forced to take time off earlier in the summer when you couldn't have a bookstore open, I really enjoyed myself. I got into the power walks and and found out things about my neighborhood that I never knew before just walking around and meeting people."

Books Unlimited will close its doors in October.


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