Final chapter for Wolseley’s Neighbourhood Bookstore and Café Eight-year bylaw battle may have hastened business' end

The Neighbourhood Bookstore and Cafe hummed Monday morning, between the dozen or so patrons’ quiet conversations over coffee and the saxophone-heavy jazz playing softly over the speakers.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/08/2018 (1506 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Neighbourhood Bookstore and Cafe hummed Monday morning, between the dozen or so patrons’ quiet conversations over coffee and the saxophone-heavy jazz playing softly over the speakers.

But soon that quiet hum will be gone — after 13 years, owner Bill Fugler is closing the Wolseley-area business at the end of August.

It’s time for a change, Fugler said. “It’s been great. But I want to do something new — more time with the family, fixing the house, getting some projects done.”

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES A cyclist reads the notice taped to the window of The Neighbourhood Cafe outlining the reason it is closed in August. The cafe reopened in December after city hall granted an exemption to the grease trap requirement -- but only on condition that all food and drinks be served in disposable plastic.

His eight-year battle with the city over a bylaw that would’ve forced him to install a grease-trap — he believes he should be exempt because there’s no cooking on-site — may have hastened the gathering place’s demise. “To not have that continual pressure would be huge. It might’ve changed things tremendously.”

As this chapter of his life comes to end, Fugler has fond memories of the business that he loves. He said he’ll miss the conversations the most — from the beginning, he had a rule that “good neighbours share tables.” He and his employees would seat strangers together in the small, 1,110-square-foot space, between its floor-to-ceiling, book-covered shelves.

“People would find out they live ten doors away from each other,” he said.

He told a story Monday about an old customer — a trumpeter whose name he couldn’t remember.

“He would start talking about one thing, and then overhear someone talking about another thing at the next table, and then he would join them, until we would have like a salon in here,” Fugler said. “We’d have 8-10 people who were all separate when they walked in, having a single discussion — it was amazing.”

Wendy Peters and Tim Bremser were sitting and chatting over a coffee and a glass of water on Monday. Bremser has been coming to the café since it opened 13 years ago.

“It’s community, although the city seems hell-bent on turning it into a Starbucks or getting rid of it,” Bremser said. “It’s locally-owned business, that all these politicians give soapbox speeches — local, the small guy, small business — it’s all crap. This is really what it is. It’s one guy who’s trying to have a bookstore.”

“It’s a cultural asset.”

Peters’ daughter Alex is one of Fugler’s two employees. “It’s going to be really sad… It’s a cornerstone of the community,” Alex Peters, an employee of five or six years said.

Monday morning, Fugler pointed out at least five people sitting in the café who he considers friends. While talking to the Free Press, he stopped twice to help customers — to a couple, he explained how the shelves are organized — “Oh, we’re very finicky, we hand pick everything that goes on the shelf,” he said. Before that, he complimented another customer’s shirt.

Making that kind of meeting place was part of why Fugler started the business in the first place.

Bill Fugler, owner of The Neighbourhood Café has announced they're closing in September. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)

“I was doing a lot of walking in the neighbourhood. There was always groups of people standing on street corners, talking,” he said. “I thought, ‘We so need somewhere for people to get together — a space that isn’t home.’ Just somewhere in the neighbourhood that’s for the neighbourhood.”

He called the owner of the building — a laundromat that had just closed — and bought the building the next day.

He said he hopes someone will buy the building — asking price of about $375,000 — and start fresh.

As for the estimated 30,000 books stacked up on the main floor and in boxes and on shelves in the basement, Fugler is unsure.

“I don’t know,” he said of what to do with all the books. “We’re going to have a blowout sale.”

Some of the stock is special, Fugler implored. “We are blessed with amazing stuff… We’ve got three (Margaret) Atwood first editions on the shelf right there. Gorgeous.”

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.

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