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End of an era

Hull’s to close after 95 years of business in Winnipeg

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Hull’s was opened 95 years ago by the Hull family. The Smith family bought the company 18 years ago. It is with heavy hearts co-owners Margo and Kathleen Smith will close the Winnipeg and Thunder Bay stores, leaving only the Steinbach location open.

STEPH CROSIER Enlarge Image

Hull’s was opened 95 years ago by the Hull family. The Smith family bought the company 18 years ago. It is with heavy hearts co-owners Margo and Kathleen Smith will close the Winnipeg and Thunder Bay stores, leaving only the Steinbach location open. Photo Store

After 95 years of business in Winnipeg, Hull’s Family Bookstores (372 Graham Ave.) will be closing its Winnipeg and Thunder Bay stores, leaving only Steinbach’s open.

"It’s no secret of what’s happening to bookstores," Margo Smith, co-owner of the faith-based bookstores, said. "The decline of the bookstore industry is well-known. I would say it’s been going on for 10 years at least."

Smith, of Tuxedo, said she and co-owner Kathleen Smith, of River Heights, have been really watching the trends and decline of customers over the years, and finally determined 2014 was the tipping point.

 "This is really an industry issue," Smith said. "We have many, many loyal customers at Hull’s that have helped us do what we do for as long as we have, and we are very grateful to those people."

Candice Reid drove in from St. Andrews to visit Hull’s. 

'It’s surprising to me that in a city of over 700,000 that there is not a single store that is committed to faith' -- Candice Reid, customer of Hull's Family Bookstore in Winnipeg

"It’s extremely unfortunate," Reid said. "It’s surprising to me that in a city of over 700,000 that there is not a single store that is committed to faith."

While long-lived in the local market, stores like Hull’s have recently found themselves as Davids, facing off against Goliaths in the industry like Amazon, Indigo, and eBooks. For Hull’s, it proved to be a losing battle, though Smith said they did try to compete online as well.

"In terms of competition you have to realize what you are competing against and who you are," Smith said. "We are unable to compete (on) price with companies like Amazon and some of the other online sellers that often sell below our costs. So price isn’t a competitive edge that we’ve been able to succeed on."

Smith said their prices are fair and they do have events and sales for their products. She said their competitive edge is a community that you won’t find online.

"Having a great environment, having specialized products, we are a niche bookstore, we specialize in Christian spirituality and so our spirituality together with the experience, that we hope we offer, is more important to us than anything in terms of competition," Smith said.

To try to compete better, Smith and Kathleen have had discussions with fellow religious bookstores across the country.

"We share ideas, we ask what others are doing to develop new ways of competing, and being sure that we’re there for our customers," Smith said. "But there comes a time when a business decision has to be made."

That decision did not come lightly, knowing around 18 staff members will be out of work in Winnipeg and Thunder Bay.

"We are very sensitive to that and we’re doing our best to take care of them," Smith said. "We’re also sensitive to customer reactions — people are grieving. A lot of people are saying (they’re) sad but not surprised because of the reality of what’s happening with bookstores."
Reid said she understands the situation but will miss the other religious trinkets Hull’s sells.

"It’s the day and age that we live in. I mean, I buy books online," Reid said. "So I don’t necessarily come here for books but I come for all the other kinds of stuff that you can’t just find anywhere. Gifts and cards, and other items, children’s things, and those kinds of things."

Smith said despite the news, customers and staff have been very supportive.

"People have been amazing, they’ve been positive and so grateful for what Hull’s has provided them," Smith said. "Overwhelming I would say the experience has been, bittersweet."

In a letter to faithful customers, Hull’s stated  they hope to open a "right-sized" Hull’s Winnipeg location in 2019, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the business.

 

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