Russell Books is bucking the trend of an increasingly troubled retail book industry by expanding once again.
Despite the proliferation of electronic readers and shift to online book sellers, the used market for books downtown seems to be booming for Russell’s.
“E-readers work really well for some books, but I think the majority — kid’s books, cook books, art stuff and history — are still best in the printed form,” says Andrea Minter, who runs Russell Books with her husband, Jordan Minter, and parents Ron and Diana DePol. “I don’t see any of those things hurting our business. We’re busier than we’ve ever been and we really need the space.”
Russell Books, which bills itself as Canada’s largest used book store, will open another 3,000 square feet in about two months after signing a lease to take over the former Fort Cafe.
The latest expansion builds on a footprint the family has patched together in three buildings in the Fort and View street areas over the last 22 years.
They now have about 16,000 square feet, which will allow the family to display more than half a million new and used books. The family has an inventory of more than a million copies and uses additional space below the Cactus Club at Fort and Douglas streets as a massive sorting area.
Customers at Russell Books say reasons for the store’s success are threefold: a good location on the busiest part of Fort Street, an incredible variety of titles and sheer volume.
Jordan Minter said Greater Victoria’s appetite for books seems insatiable, with the company averaging at least 10 per cent increases in revenue for the past decade. Single sales in December spiked at 60,000 and the opening months of the new year are busier than usual, he said.
The employee count is up to 40 as the company adds five new staff a year.
“I think Russell’s has become a real destination,” said Jordan Minter. “We see whole families coming down and going into different areas. Then they’ll go for lunch at the neighbouring] Dutch Bakery.”
“People spend hours here,” added Andrea Minter.
The operation runs seven days, with Saturdays often overflowing. More than 1,000 books are rotated into retail shelves every day and sellers bring boxes in daily, with about 90 per cent taking credit over cash.
“We keep a lot of loyal customers that way,” said Jordan Minter.
There are still hundreds of boxes of books unpacked, including the thousands purchased at last year’s massive Times Colonist Book Sale.
Jordan Minter expects further sales increases as the collection is catalogued. He estimates only a quarter of the collection is in the company’s database. “I got a call from a woman who wanted a certain book and we had it ... she came in and got it, but noticed we also had the book she had just ordered from Amazon. We want to improve on that.”
The new space at 742 Fort St., in the basement below B.C. Shaver and Hobbies, is currently under construction led by Chad DePol, Andrea’s brother. The former cafe has been completed gutted, the floor stripped and shelf building is underway.
It’s next door to Russell’s main building at 734 Fort St., which is already floor-to-ceiling in bookshelves. The top floor of that building was connected on the upper level to the space above B.C. Shaver four years ago.
The new space will allow Russell’s to move a staff lunch room and offices out of the main building. The company also plans to rebuild the cafe’s former stage under the stairwell for use in various literary events, such as author signings and demonstrations.
The bulk of the space will be used to showcase and sell vintage and collectable books, which will be moved out of the main building and allow an expansion of the children’s section there.
The Fort Cafe, known for its live shows and open stage, was shut Dec. 15 after a six-year run when building owner Garnett Rancier did not renew its lease. Rancier also operates B.C. Shaver and Hobbies.
Russell’s View Street store, its largest single space, is the main hub for its Internet sales. Although online buys show steady growth, Jordan Minter said it’s still only a fraction of Russell’s monthly sales. “The retail is still our bread and butter,” he said.
Russell Books, launched by Diana and Ron DePol in 1991, was named in honour of famed Montreal bookseller Reginald Russell — Diana’s father who ran bookstores there for decades. The family now counts four generations in the business.
© Copyright 2013