When The Book Shelf closed its doors to the public on March 14 because of the COVID-19 crisis, the family-run business was in a unique position. The Minetts also operate a cinema and the restaurant/performance venue eBar at their popular cultural complex in downtown Guelph. Just a month before the shutdown, they completed an extensive two-year renovation project – paid for in part through fundraising – adding an accessible elevator to the upper-level eBar.
“Sometimes things just take another direction,” says co-owner Ben Minett, who, with his sister Hannah, co-owns the business founded in 1973 by his parents, Barb and Doug.
About a month after the shutdown, Minett was chatting with a high-school friend who owns the Niagara-based Organized Crime Winery about new ways to increase revenue when an idea struck. Given that The Book Shelf serves wine in the cinema and at eBar, they are now legally allowed to sell and deliver wine directly to customers.
“Since we were already driving around the city, we thought adding wine could be a perfect fit with a book,” says Minett.
The store now offers same-day free delivery of five different Organized Crime wines to the local Guelph community. All drivers are smart-serve certified and check ID at the door. As a nod to the Book Shelf’s long-running cinema, a bag of unpopped popcorn is included with every order.
Only one day after launching the venture, Minett already reports a great response to the idea, which is expanding to include tea, coffee, and potentially local preserves in time for the lucrative Mother’s Day business.
“People aren’t buying wine or books, it’s a combination of both, which I find really interesting,” he says. The bookstore, which is currently open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for phone and web orders, is making comparable sales to a previous full day’s operation, selling plenty of books, puzzles, games – and now wine. The store’s top sales include Delia Owens’s 2018 blockbuster novel Where the Crawdads Sing, the local guidebook Waterloo, Wellington & Guelph Hikes – Loops & Lattes by Nicola Ross, Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza by Ken Forkish, and the 1000-piece puzzle, The World of Shakespeare.
“It’s been a hustle,” Minett says. “And it’s always evolving. We have ideas and we’ll throw them at the wall and see what sticks.”