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Woozles, Canada’s oldest children’s bookstore, is turning 40

Woozles 40th anniversaryFor the last 40 years, on a small, tree-lined Halifax street – snug in a rambling old house painted a cheerful bright yellow – sits Woozles Children’s Bookstore, a popular destination in the city.

Founded by Ann Connor Brimer and Brian and Liz Crocker, the store opened October 14, 1978. At the time, there were no bookstores for children in Halifax. Brian and Liz, who was pregnant with their first child at the time, bought the building on Birmingham Street – and Woozles was born. “Three people who thought it was a wonderful idea for the city decided to just do it,” says Lisa Doucet, who is the current co-manager along with Suzy Crocker, Brian and Liz’s daughter.

Doucet has been on staff at Woozles for 22 years. “When you’re talking about a place with a 40-year history you have to say only 22 years.” The shop, she says, “is one of those rare places that is more fun to work at than you imagine it will be.” Some of Woozles’s staff have come on board in a surprisingly organic way: out of the shop’s book club, which started as “an experiment” with elementary school children. “As the kids kept getting older, they didn’t want to leave,” says Doucet, who now runs the store’s book clubs for elementary, junior high, and high school students. “One of them is currently working here at the store and his little sister is now in our elementary book club.”

Over its 40 years, the shop has attracted and kept staff for decades. Past “Woozles” (as the staff call themselves) include children’s author Hadley Dyer and illustrator Eric Orchard. When the original manager, Trudy Carey, retired in 2009 after 31 years, Doucet and Crocker took over as co-managers. But, Doucet points out, it’s a collaborative environment that values every staff member’s contribution.

In addition to the book clubs for kids, Woozles also offers a YA book club for adults, along with a variety of workshops and an annual writing competition for kids between the ages of 6 and 15.

The shop will celebrate 40 years on Oct. 13, with face painting, a fish pond stocked with prizes, and a free yo-yo workshop. Readers will be able to check out a list of the shop’s 40 favourite books from the last 40 years. “We’re looking forward to sharing these great books with our friends.”

Among those “friends” are the usual regular customers any book shop accrues over 40 years – especially a children’s bookstore, whose regulars tend to span generations. But Doucet says there’s another group of regulars Woozles is just as happy to see come through the door: “There are regulars who we see once a year, or once every couple of years because they don’t live here anymore. But they come back to visit their parents or they come with their kids to visit where mummy and daddy grew up. Woozles is a sacred place for them. They come from all over the world. We don’t see them every day, but they are regulars, and Woozles is a special part of their visit to this region.”