Maritime Life at Fredericton’s Westminster Books

Westminster Books, 445 King St, Fredericton, New Brunswick

Westminster Books, Fredericton’s only independent bookstore that focuses on new books, has been a community staple for over thirty years. The brother-in-law of the current owner, Janet North, opened the store in 1975. He ran it for two years before moving back to Ontario and selling the store to Janet, her husband, and another couple.

“We were partly involved with it, and when they decided to move we didn’t want to see them close it,” says Janet, who has, over the years, seen three other independent bookstores in Fredericton shut their doors permanently.

The store occupies two bright and spacious rooms. Originally it used just one of the two rooms, then moved entirely to the other, then back again. Finally it settled into both to allow more space for children’s books and a play place: “Kids love to come and play. They have to be dragged out sometimes, and that’s always better than having to be dragged in.”

The book selection is extensive, including an impressive Maritime Life section which consists of books by local authors, both fiction and non-fiction.

“We get a lot of compliments on our selection here,” says Janet. “A lot of people who come from Toronto, where everything is so specialized, think it’s great that we have it all in a compact area.”

“Really we sell a little bit of everything,” she continues. Though fiction and children’s books tend to sell best. As does Young Adult Fiction, which does well with adults as well as teenagers; a fact that, as Janet explains, probably has to do with the relatively cheap price of young-adult hardcovers compared to hardcovers in the adult section.

The store has a committed group of regulars. Many are on a first name basis with the staff, who regularly recommend books and even order in books they think their customers will like. This, according to Janet, is the main service independent bookstores offer that you won’t find in larger chain stores: “We like books, we read books, we recommend books. We get to know our customers. I don’t think in a larger environment that could happen.”

And the store is certainly involved in the community. There is a book group that meets at the store monthly, and several other book groups that come in for reading lists and recommendations. They host book releases for local authors several times a year, and provide a favorite venue for authors to give talks if they’re passing through Fredericton.

Despite the community involvement and faithful regulars, Debbie does worry about the future of the store; it’s hard to compete with the Chapters in the mall and with online book dealers like Amazon.

Luckily there seems to be a strong “buy local” movement developing in Fredericton that Janet hopes to tap into. And to supplement books sales, Westminster has started selling non-book items like greeting cards and even boating charts: “Things we feel are complemented by books.”

Photo by Mark Rendell