Samantha Bolen is surprising the book trade by investing in a major makeover of her store, which has been established for nearly four decades at Hillside Shopping Centre.
“It’s unheard of ... when I tell my publishers that we are doing this kind of reno at this kind of expense, they can’t believe it because people aren’t doing that in our industry,” said Bolen, who owns Bolen Books, which was founded by her mother, Mel, 37 years ago.
She hears of book stores closing — not adding improvements — these days. A building permit has been taken out for $400,000 but Samantha Bolen anticipates the cost will reach $600,000. The owner of the shopping centre, currently going through its own massive makeover, is contributing a portion of that amount in interior tenant improvements. Hillside manager Kerry Shular said the total is confidential.
The centre is also adding a new glass entrance for Bolen’s in a contemporary design facing Hillside Avenue, Shular said. The modern design element will tie in with the appearance of the $70-million in renovations and expansion currently under way at the shopping centre.
Mel Bolen, now retired, opened her book store at Hillside Centre, moving into different locations until settling in the current site 17 years ago.
It has been expanded since and now covers about 18,000 square feet.
“The amount of money that’s going into it may not be the smartest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Bolen said cheerfully. “But I want to work in a beautiful store and I want to give Victoria a beautiful store.”
Bolen Books’ renos are scheduled to start in March and end in September.
“We’ve been in this store for 17 years and it has never been even touched up,” Bolen said. “It’s still a great space. I think the most important thing is our customers love this space and are very possessive of this space.”
A more elegant and arts-and-crafts feel is planned. “It’s got a touch of modernism in it that the mall is looking for.”
The three sales desks will be redone, topped with chocolate brown marble with white veins. “That’s something that the customers are going to see when they come up to the desk, so I think it needs to be a quality product.”
A new logo has been designed in an art nouveau style showing women reading books, and paint colours are changing to chocolate browns and creams, replacing maroon and gold, Bolen said. Creamy white painted brick pillars will be installed indoors to complement the brick on the exterior of the store.
The Liberty-designed arts-and-craft wall border purchased by Mel Bolen is staying. “I must have five customers a day beg me not to change that wall covering. They just love it so much,” Bolen said.
“I think Victoria has been really good to my family. And by my family I mean everyone who works here as well as my mum and I.” The store has about 45 staff.
New shelves will exhibit non-book items, another sign of the changing book business. When Bolen Books moved into its current site, it had about 10 such items for sale. Today, these products make up 25 per cent of sales.
“I think the reason Victoria has the successful bookstores [is because] we are one of the most literate cities in Canada. Not just customers. The writers who live here are too numerable to count,” Bolen said, “That inspires people.”
“I think more than most cities of our size, Victoria honours its independent businesses better than anybody else.”
Renovations are dovetailing with the transformation going on at the Hillside shopping centre, where approximately $70 million is being spent to add an addition to the Shelbourne Street side, expand the food court and complete other interior improvements. A new Target store is being built on the site of the former Zellers store.
Greater Victoria is known for its bookstores, patronized by local residents and visitors. They include Munro’s Books, 1108 Government St., which is marking 50 years in business. Jim Munro moved his business into its current location in 1984. The 1909 neo-classical building was designed by Thomas Hooper.
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