Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City bookstore turning page

Staffers will take over at McNally Robinson

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MCNALLY Robinson Booksellers, the independent bookstore that beat the big-box operations to the punch when it opened its large-format outlet in Grant Park Shopping Centre in 1996, has started transferring ownership of the company to two longtime staffers.

Co-founder Paul McNally said a price has been agreed on and a three-to-four-year process to sell the business to Chris Hall, senior inventory manager who's been with the company for 16 years, and Lori Baker, controller for the past six years, has been started.

McNally, 64, said he and his wife and store co-founder Holly McNally, 63, "really shouldn't be doing this for too, too much longer."

He said no shares have been transferred yet, but the process of mentoring the new owners is underway.

"The whole idea is to make it a seamless transition to people who are insiders in the business," said McNally, adding he and Holly will continue on through the transition.

With locations in Winnipeg and Saskatoon and an affiliation with McNally Jackson Books in New York City (run by daughter Sarah McNally), the stores have carved a successful niche in a retail sector turned upside down by digital formats.

The stores have become the go-to locations for author readings for everyone from environmentalist David Suzuki and economist Jeff Rubin, who were at an event there this week, to every local author with a new book to sell.

Staging live events, with the authors signing new books that are available for sale in a setting where wine and food are sold, has proved a good business model for the McNallys.

The 24,000-square-foot stores feature tony decor and enticing children's departments on the mezzanine level, where Winnipeg parents have spent untold hundreds of dollars on pricey books and irresistibly cute stuffies and toys.

The company went through a brief court-appointed period of bankruptcy protection at the end of 2009 after ill-timed opening of new stores at Polo Park in Winnipeg and in Toronto.

Those stores closed, as did a Calgary store and a Portage Place location, but the McNallys reorganized and the Grant Park and Saskatoon stores continue to thrive as hubs for author book readings and other cultural events.

The McNallys are just as savvy as restaurant operators as at selling books. Restaurants at both locations are key. Stand-alone independent bookstores have fallen prey to the flashy Indigo/Chapters national chain, but McNally Robinson holds its own with the help of its thriving Prairie Ink Restaurant.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

A look at McNally Robinson Booksellers and its expansion -- and sometimes retreat -- in the book market.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 4, 2012 B5

History

Updated on Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 11:21 AM CDT: adds slideshow

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