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Neighbourhood Bookstore & Café good for the soul -- and the stomach

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I hesitate to share another of my favourite places... the last time I recommended a spot, it almost immediately closed and it remains shuttered to this day.

Besides, I don't want to lose my usual window seat if a bookstore/café that is cosy now becomes crowded with riff-raff.

Hmmmm... but since this is appearing in a quality broadsheet -- the Winnipeg Free Press -- I'll take a chance.

The Neighbourhood Bookstore & Café is in the heart of Granolaville (Wolseley). This means a walk there in the summer is rewarded with older, well-kept houses and yards, boulevards with character and leafy loveliness. There's home reno galore to comment on without actually doing any yourself.

Whatever is happening on Portage Avenue is a distant yawp -- even when sitting and sipping on the bookstore's shady brick patio.

In the winter, the big windows facing Westminster allow for people and dog watching, as well as bird watching, thanks to the neighbourhood's penchant for bird feeders. Even a pileated woodpecker pecked his way past just a while back. In addition, nothing tastes better than a bowl of hot soup, made from scratch, on a wintry Winnipeg day as some poor soul staggers by.

It is especially tasty if you can say "Take it off my credit."

It's not really eating for free, but it feels like it when the books you've sold to the Neighbourhood Bookstore & Café are transmogrified into credit to be applied against your appetite. Owner Bill Fugler will value your book treasures while you wait, and although he has to be choosy, he never lets you feel you are wasting his time. And as certain as Dickens was paid by the word, something you've brought in will trigger a conversation about books and reading. It's your choice; you can take cash or a little extra in credit, and I've been eating my way through a basement full of my past lives for some time.

The coffee comes with a free refill and the carrot cake will send you through the drifts without your tuque on. As for the vegan chocolate cake... let's just say it's wise to ask for two forks so you can share it with a friend. On Sundays, we come for lunch and pore over the Free Press I got using the coupon in Saturday's paper. A "free" paper and "free" food? It's enough to give a Winnipegger palpitations.

Finished your paper? The conversations around you are always worth eavesdropping on. It's like being a member of Robertson Davies' clerisy. People who read to fill time, not to kill time.

But what about the books, you ask? You are surrounded by them from floor to ceiling. Not the dog's breakfast treasure seekers delight in at the Red River Book Shop, but properly shelved in their categories, and nothing so shabby it qualifies as a reading copy only. And you can hear them in their places. Madame Bovary sobbing for understanding, Long John promising treasure beyond counting to his scoundrel fellow sailors. Only an arm's reach away and priced close enough to give a Kindle owner pause.

A tip to the bargain hunter. Scan the shelves just inside the door on your left for the 50-cent books. To your right are new arrivals. A row on the book desk counter. Then check out the rows of current themes and the individual staff picks just past the food counter.

Not what you're looking for? Ask Bill. He will scuttle to the wedged-full basement and odds are you're not going to leave empty-handed -- or with an empty stomach. Did I mention the ginger tofu sandwiches?

See you there? I'm the grey bearded clockwork gasbag pontificating in the corner.

Ron Robinson hosts Pages and co-hosts the Saturday Morning Show with Carol McKibbon on CKUW FM 95.9

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 27, 2013 A1

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