Canada’s Oldest Bookstore Closes

Book RoomIt survived two world wars and the Great Depression. But it couldn’t survive the onslaught of online ordering, big-box stores like Chapters and the expansion of books into grocery stores and drugstores.

The Book Room in Halifax, a literary landmark – billed as the oldest bookstore in Canada – is shutting its doors at the end of March, after 169 years.

The Book Room on Barrington Street in Halifax, Nova Scotia, opened for business in 1839 and survived two World Wars and the Great Depression, store president Charles Burchell said in a release.

But the retail store couldn’t outlast big box bookstores, Burchell said, nor the ease of ordering books online, competition from book selling pharmacies and grocery stores or the pressure to lower prices to reflect a stronger Canadian dollar.

The final nail in the coffin was the dual pricing of books, with higher selling prices in Canada than in the United States.

Publishers couldn’t react quickly enough to the change, Burchell said, pointing out that books take about three years before they reach the market. It’s the only retail industry he knows of where the selling price is already set, he added.

“The only way you can make any profit is to control that margin in-between and that has to pay for everything.”

Burchell said The Book Room will begin “an orderly shutdown of its retail store and dispose of its inventory” over the next few weeks. The company’s wholesale operation will continue.

“I am extremely disappointed to make this announcement as The Book Room has been an institution in Nova Scotia,” he said. “The bookstore has survived two World Wars, the Great Depression and economic ups and downs over its 169 year history.”

Burchell said that during his 42 years with the bookstore, he invited “hundreds and hundreds of local authors, authors from across Canada and around the world to come and meet their reading fans.”

Before the advent of the computer, Burchell said the store received letters from “all over the world” requesting special books be sent to them.

“To fulfill their request was such a gratifying feeling for me as well as my staff,” he said in the release.

Books in WinterCanada’s oldest bookstore, The Book Room was first established in 1839 as The Wesleyan Book Room and by Christmas of that year had produced a catalogue of books and started filling “Special Orders.”

In 1876 the store was located at 125 Granville Street and in 1925 became The Ryerson Press Book Room.

Following closure in the Spring of 1949, due to a devastating fire, the store re-opened that November in Halifax’s Chronicle Building, remaining on Granville Street. The new owners dropped “Ryerson Press” from the store’s name, keeping The Book Room and continuing its bookselling tradition in Halifax.

In May of 1996 The Book Room moved to its present location at 1546 Barrington Street and continued to offer Halifax, Canada and the rest of the world an amazing selection of books.

“It’s a very dark day in the book industry,” bookseller Heidi Hallett said, “We are really, really sad to see them close.”

“It’s definitely a sign of the times, with people shopping online and big-box stores and all that, but it’s just so incredibly sad because we need independent bookstores.”

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