“Worlds get opened because of books, for children and teens and adults. It feels like a very special thing, sometimes a deeply personal thing, to put books in the hands of people. There is such a depth to it.”
Woozles Bookstore in Halifax, NS first opened its doors on October 14, 1978. Since then, it has been a dynamic and beloved part of the community, a mainstay for families from all over the place, and a resource for children and adults alike. We spoke to Suzy MacLean, store manager, to learn more about Canada’s oldest children’s bookstore.
Last fall, you opened a beautiful new location on Shirley Street. Congratulations! Can you tell us about the new storefront and what inspired the move?
Woozles has been around for 43 years and counting. There’s almost too much history to honour – so many wonderful stories and authors and children have come through our door. People have feelings about the store. It’s featured in family photo albums. Customers go out of their way to come back with their grandchildren. So, the decision to move was a momentous one. It was something we had talked about and around before, but it felt too hard, too precious a decision to consider. And then COVID-19 sauntered in.
Everything was interrupted. From one day to the next, we shut our doors to the public and became a warehouse (and a very busy one, I might add). Halifax is an incredible community of loyal and lovely people, many of whom went out of their way to place online orders for curb-side pick-up or free local delivery. This made us realize that so much of what we do – what’s important to people and what keeps our customers coming back – is not actually about yellow paint. It’s about service and knowledge and a whole lot of heart. So, in a weird way, the pandemic ended up giving us a pep talk about the future.
Then we got busy again and didn’t have time to make big changes. Finally, late in 2020 as we were entering the Christmas retail rush, the building started to fall apart. Three major things happened in a row that all needed immediate attention. They were costly and inconvenient. It felt like the universe was really trying to tell us something.
The new location is WONDERFUL. It’s bright and welcoming and accessible in a way that the other shop was not – we have a wheelchair accessible door and washroom now. We’re still located on a side street and those who live on or near Shirley Street have been fabulously supportive. Kids scoot over after school and grandparents walk down the street just after lunch. Our loyal customers are finding us, and new people are discovering us. Which, for a business that’s almost 44 years old, is splendid news.
What can readers find on your shelves? How do you decide which books to stock?
It is a highly distracting workplace! We carry books that range from age 0 to adults, and toys and doodads for children of all ages (including the “children at heart”). Co-manager Lisa Doucet and I choose all the books on our shelves. We make a collaborative effort to hand-pick them all. Sometimes it’s intuitive and easy, and other times we ask each other these types of questions when deciding: Is this the kind of thing that our customers are looking for? Is this the kind of thing that feels important? Can we handsell this? It’s quite nice that there are two of us, because we can bounce ideas off one another and bring a broader approach. That said, we can really whip each other up in excitement if we both enthusiastically love something!
The store is a Halifax fixture. Can you tell us about some of the ways you connect with the people in your community?
Woozles has been involved in so many bookish initiatives over the years. Some of these were put on hold by the pandemic, but we’re itching to get going again. We have recently reinstated our weekly Storytime in the Gardens. It’s a free and family-friendly storytime in the Halifax Public Gardens and on Tuesday mornings. It’s a fun and joyous affair. Two ducks even wandered over to join the children while they listened to books being read aloud today!
We’re also gearing up to re-launch our writing contest for kids this summer. Our YA book club for adults has been chugging along throughout the pandemic via Zoom, although our book club for kids is still on hold. Another initiative we hope to get off the ground this fall is Battle of the Books, a school-based competitive reading program, although there’s still uncertainty about school extracurriculars. And, of course, we continue to offer a free local delivery service that we’ve been running for almost nine years.
What is something our readers might be surprised to learn about Woozles?
Here are a few:
Can you share some of your favourite store memories?
THERE ARE SOOOOOO MANY!
Here’s one from my childhood: Woozles hosted an origami workshop upstairs and I was the kid sister who was probably too young but did it anyway. I learned to fold a bowtie out of a $5 bill and it’s still one of my very best party tricks.
And more recently: We hosted a big party for Paper Bag Princess Day just before everything changed, where we created elaborate sets and encouraged kids and adults to arrive in costume. You might say it was a bit of a hullabaloo.
What are some recent or forthcoming books you’re looking forward to sharing with your community?
What do you love most about being an independent bookseller?
There’s something funny and magical that happens in a place like this. Fully grown adults come in and start giggling, hugging the stuffed cats, and reading snippets of books about ponies who fart too much. There is a lot of joy that lives in here. And most days, selling books feels more like an honour than a job. Because books – the life-altering books that can change how you feel, make you an expert for a minute, make you laugh and then make you cry – add a whole other level to life. Worlds get opened because of books, for children and teens and adults. It feels like a very special thing, sometimes a deeply personal thing, to get to put books in the hands of people. There is such a depth to it.
Practically, I appreciate that my job differs from day to day. Managing a small business means that you must wear many hats and execute an array of tasks and always be ready for whatever walks through the door. It’s never a boring endeavour!
And I love that it feels like family. My parents (Liz and Brian Crocker) dreamt this idea up with their friend, Ann Connor Brimer, all those years ago. I get to work inside that dream every day.