Russell Books to move, expand downtown

Family-owned Russell Books on Fort Street is moving across the street, where it will be able to display thousands more volumes in a larger, more efficient and easily accessible space.

For customers, it means no more climbing steep stairs to the upper floor, or, for those unable to make the hike, sending staff up on their behalf.

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The new digs at 747 Fort St., in a space that once housed a Staples outlet, has an escalator and elevator between two floors.

Although Andrea Minter wants her family’s new location to have the same ambience as its current outlet at 734 Fort St., she is looking forward to having an additional 6,000 square feet for administrative work and retail space, as well as new customized shelves and seating. The official opening will be in the fall, Minter said. “We hope to make it seamless.”

Longer hours to tap into an increasingly vibrant downtown are planned for the new store.

Downtown has experienced a building boom in recent years, bringing thousands of new condominium residents to the city’s core. “It is a beautiful city and I’m so proud to be able to have our business in downtown Victoria,” Minter said.

Russell’s, which has 60 employees, sells new and used books, and every day, at least 100 people walk through the doors with books to sell, she said.

Minter said as far as she knows, Russell Books is the largest bookstore in Canada in terms of number of volumes. The business has more than a million books, of which several hundred thousand are at the Fort Street store, she said. The rest are at its View Street location, Books on View, or in storage.

Minter estimates the number of books on shelves will rise by about 25 per cent in the new location. No immediate changes are planned for Books on View.

Greater Victoria bookworms have plenty of choice in the capital region, where bookstores are a proven tourist draw. Other independent stores include Munro’s Books, housed in a historic building at 1108 Government St., Bolen Books in Hillside Shopping Center, and Tanner’s Books in Sidney, one of a cluster of bookstores in that community.

Sales at Russell Books have grown steadily since Diana and Ron DePol, Minter’s parents, opened the store in 1991. The current location fills 12,000 square feet, she said. It experienced a boost in sales when Chapter’s bookstore left downtown last year to become Indigo in the expanded Mayfair Shopping Centre.

The move marks another step in the family’s bookstore history, which started when Minter’s grandfather, Reginald Russell, who died in 2007, opened the Book Nook, his first used bookstore, in Montreal in the 1950s.

Minter, her husband, Jordan, and brother Chad DePol are the mainstays of the business today.

Minter is looking at continued expansion of online transactions, which now account for about 25 per cent of all sales.

The company has also reached agreement to buy an 8,000-square-foot building in James Bay next month to serve as a warehouse.

Having a warehouse close by will be handy — staff will be able to catalogue books, access volumes sold online and easily replenish stock in the store, Minter said. Currently, stock is stored in eight containers on the DePols’ property in Saanich.

The new store has 10,000 square feet on the main floor and 8,000 square feet below. “It’s got huge, high ceilings. It’s going to function much better as a business, too.” she said. “It is nice and airy and bright.”

Renovations are starting at the new location, leased for 10 years with options to extend, Minter said. New flooring, updated technology and a music system are going in.

To mark the grand opening, Russell Books is aiming to set a record. “We are going to make the largest stack of Guinness World Record books,” Minter said. A Guinness judge will be on hand. “Over the years, we’ve been collecting them because I’ve wanted to do the record for a while.” Many of the books were purchased at the Times Colonist Book Sale.

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