Community Strangeness: On Fredericton’s Owl’s Nest Bookstore

Amid the stacks of Owl's Nest Books (Photo by Mark Rendell)
Amid the stacks of Owl’s Nest Books (Photo by Mark Rendell)

Owl’s Nest Bookstore, 390 Queen St., Fredericton, New Brunswick.

“If nothing else, we add some strangeness to the community,” says Debbie of Owl’s Nest Books, Fredericton’s principal secondhand bookstore. And indeed, with its endless rooms and motley décor, the store glows with haphazard charm. Owls hang on the walls. Q plays on the radio. Room after room offers nooks, corners, and couches, each beckoning you to make it your favourite reading spot.

Owner Sandra Croft started the bookstore in 1991. Initially it was located several blocks away, but outgrew its single room within two years and relocated to its current place in a handsome red building on Queen Street, just across from City Hall. Here it occupies two floors and a maze of somewhere between eight and fourteen rooms, depending on how judiciously one differentiates room from alcove from niche.

Most days you’ll find Debbie and Pepper the seventeen-year-old cat in charge, selling classics and philosophy to UNB students, a lot of science fiction, and “and a surprising amount of Archie Comics,” Debbie says with a smile. The store deals exclusively in secondhand books, although in the 90s they took a short-lived plunge into the new book market to meet a Buffy-driven mania for all things Wiccan.

One is struck, upon entering, by the sheer quantity of books; every stack is bulging and piles form at the foot of each shelf. Cardboard signs indicate, ‘Fiction’, ‘Biography’, ‘Classics’, ‘Sports’. Whole side rooms are given over to philosophy and religion and there’s a ‘Science Corner’ with a comfy red seat surrounded by three towering walls of science titles. To the assured delight of every bibliophile, there is a sliding book-ladder on the second floor that moves along a wooden rail attached to the second highest shelf of a wall stack.

The store has many regulars, some who pop in almost every day. Throughout the summer tourists wander in off Queen Street. There is even a committed cadre of fans from Ontario and the U.S. who make little pilgrimages to the store every year. For those who can’t make the trip, Owl’s Nest also sells books online, shipping rare books as far as Japan and Australia.

When asked about the prospects of secondhand bookstores in a world of Amazon and Chapters, Debbie replies that as long as there are people who like variety and don’t mind waiting for new releases, there will be a place for Owl’s Nest Books. And what about the onslaught of electronic books? “Records are making a comeback,” she says. “There is a certain sound and feel and an ‘I don’t know what’. Books are like that too. But I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”