The Next Act of Books on Beechwood

DSCN1083Books on Beechwood, 35 Beechwood Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario.

Jean Barton opened Books on Beechwood in 1994 and for nineteen years it has served as a hub hosting book signings, reading clubs, and children’s story-times for the Ottawa community. On a Saturday morning the aromas of coffee and baking from the scone shop next door bathe the store as shoppers stroll in. They pick up the morning’s Globe and Mail, pre-order a new release from a favourite author, or browse the well-curated shelves.

The quiet shop in Canada’s sleepiest big city has had an animated life story that rivals the plots that line its bookshelves. In 2011 a massive fire tore through its New Edinburgh neighbourhood. It took 130 firefighters to contain the blaze. Three of the bookstore’s neighbours were destroyed, including an art gallery that lost Group of Seven paintings. The New Edinburgh neighbourhood has long benefitted from heavy foot traffic from a cross section of Ottawa residents, including families, residents of two nearby retirement homes, and diplomats from the embassies in Rockcliffe Park. The loss of businesses decimated the flow of walk-in customers upon which the independent store relied. While the remaining New-Edinburghers rushed to repair the damage, patrons formed new routines, found new favourite shops in new locations and Beechwood Avenue proprietors began to go under. By the end of 2012, Barton had had enough. She announced to the community that she would look for a buyer for her bookstore until Christmas Day. If no buyer could be found, she would close.

Then came the twist in what seemed like the store’s final act. Brian Sullivan had been bringing his 12-year-old son, Nicholas, to Books on Beechwood for Saturday story-time since he was four.  He called on two colleagues from the optical thin-film manufacturer where he worked, and the three of them purchased the shop mere days before the Christmas deadline.

Three other long-time independent bookstores in Ottawa (Nicholas Hoare Books, Collected Works, and Mother Tongue Books) closed in 2012. The survival of Books on Beechwood is a tribute to the five part-time staff members that take care of it. Antoinette orders and reviews books on social issues and politics, Hilary works with literary content, Di with children’s books, Bridget with mysteries and biographies and Jill runs the book club. They also provide personalized recommendations in-store and on Beechwood’s blog and bring in local authors for readings. You could say their work sends the aroma of books into the scone shop next door.