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Downtown bookstore, events spot nears end

Aqua Books closing in fall

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/8/2011 (3358 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Aqua Books and Eat! bistro owner Kelly Hughes says his used-book, restaurant and performance centre isn't paying for itself and he'll have to close.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Aqua Books and Eat! bistro owner Kelly Hughes says his used-book, restaurant and performance centre isn't paying for itself and he'll have to close.

The owner of a downtown used-book store, restaurant and gathering spot says he'll close the business in a few weeks.

Kelly Hughes, owner of Aqua Books and Eat! bistro, says the operation was no longer viable.

Hughes says he doesn't have a definite date when he'll shut the doors, adding he will stay open at least until the end of September.

"We're closing -- I don't have a date on it. It'll be not before the end of September, because we have a lot of books to sell. We've got a lot of things to wind down. We've got to sell the building."

Aqua Books is at 274 Garry St., in the first block south of Portage Avenue and across the street from the Garrick Hotel.

The business started in 1999 on Notre Dame Avenue and moved to Garry Street in 2008. In the larger location, Hughes opened a restaurant, staged concerts, poetry and book readings and offered local artists studio space.

He says small, independent business people have always struggled, and being a bookseller today brought more difficulties. He singled out the growing popularity of social networks in the past year for making the business model even more difficult.

"People spend a lot of time now on their smartphones and accessing the Internet from anywhere in the world. That's great, but it's changed people's habits and people don't have the time like they used to to read."

A marketing expert says Aqua Books' location didn't help.

Rob Warren, executive director of the University of Manitoba's Stu Clark Centre for Entrepreneurship, says he had never heard of Aqua Books and initially confused it with another used-book store in the Exchange District.

Warren says Hughes made a poor choice when he relocated Aqua Books to the 200 block of Garry Street.

"That's a dead zone in downtown Winnipeg for retail. No one ever goes there to shop."

Warren says that contrary to Hughes' assertion that people no longer make time to read, people are reading books, but not the traditional paper kind.

E-books and tablets are taking over new-book sales, Warren says, adding that traditional readers of paper books are generally older, probably buying fewer books and using libraries more often.

He says large, used-book store operations such as Aqua Books have high overhead that can make it difficult to make a profit.

Hughes says sales of books at his store declined 30 per cent in the past year, adding that though the operation was popular, the disparate elements inside the building weren't able to generate enough cash flow to cover the bills.

"This is a big operation -- 8,400 square feet, 45,000 books, restaurant, writers' studios, two events rooms, 400 events a year. It's a big operation and everything works together in tandem... It's the whole package, and we're out of steam on it."

Hughes notified his customers about the closing in a email he distributed early Thursday morning. He says he wrote the goodbye email at 5 a.m. Thursday and send it out at 6:30 a.m. to about 2,000 customers and clients. He says the response has been overwhelming, adding people were dropping by all day to speak to him.

Hughes gave a radio interview in the morning suggesting he might close the restaurant but keep the bookstore open. However, he told the Free Press that everything would be shutting down.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

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