Shop Talk is an occasional feature in which fledgling independent booksellers take Q&Q into their stores and share their reasons for opening and what business has been like so far.
6 Water Street South, Unit 2
St. Mary’s, Ontario
Jan Scott credits her family’s COVID move – from Toronto to a small-town in southwestern Ontario – as part of the reason why she and her husband Rob opened Betty’s Bookshelf in St. Mary’s in 2021.
Of course, the discovery of available retail space in a newly renovated flour mill “that was ripe for opportunity” didn’t hurt. Scott opened the 450-square-foot store, named in honour of her late grandmother, just over a year ago, on November 19, 2021. Although the physical space of the store is small, Scott aims to keep it well stocked with a wide variety of books.
“We do our best to have a little bit of everything, including small gift items, puzzles, and games,” Scott says.
Scott, who is also a cookbook author (Oven to Table, Penguin Canada), works at the store full-time and is supported by two part-time employees.
She recently answered a few questions for Q&Q about what the first year of business has been like at Betty’s Bookshelf.
Why open Betty’s Bookshelf in St. Mary’s at the end of 2021?
Why not open a bookstore in the middle of a pandemic in a town we don’t live in? Ha! I know it seems a little woo-woo but all I can say is we had a good feeling that this town was meant to have a bookstore, so we trusted our gut feeling and just went with it.
How has the community and its readers responded to the store?
The St. Mary’s community is everything to our business. They have responded to our store with enthusiasm, support, friendship, and opportunity, and we couldn’t be more grateful for how they have showered us with love and kindness and trusted us to fulfill their shopping needs.
How do you reach potential readers?
I would be lying if I didn’t admit to how significant social media is to our business. We use it to promote books we love, store events, the renovation of our space, and community and business updates. I also think word-of-mouth continues to be powerful in small towns, and we spend a lot of time chatting with and getting to know our customers. I think they appreciate our attention to detail, and how well we remember their names and what they like to read. They mention it to their friends and family and in turn we gain a few more shoppers.
What are your goals for the bookstore? Does the store have any special focus?
At its most basic, our biggest goal is to stay in business for many years. Beyond that, we hope to build and nurture strong connections with our customers and community, while celebrating books, authors, and the power of storytelling. The store doesn’t have a specific focus other than we try very hard to make sure that everyone who walks through the door can find something that speaks to them or represents them in some way.
What has been most surprising or unexpected about opening a bookstore or about your first few months in business?
The biggest surprise has been the wonderful friendships and conversations that have come from owning this store. I don’t take a single one for granted. Our lives have been changed for the better by the people we get to interact with each day.
This interview has been edited and condensed.