Bilingual parents and teachers are fretting about the future of their go-to francophone children’s bookstore, after its owners announced their forthcoming retirement over the weekend.
One of two shops that specialize in French books in St. Boniface, Boutique du Livre has been selling French titles in the city since the 1980s. Its current owners, Nicole and Antoine Coudière, took over the Marion Street shop in 2012.
"I know a lot of people will be very disappointed. There’s a lot of teachers in schools and parents who count on us to inform them on what’s new and interesting in children’s literature. We always get excellent feedback — it’s the best job I’ve ever had," said Coudière, a former French immersion teacher who took over the shop with her husband as a pre-retirement project.
Coudière said they have decided to start a new chapter to take care of their aging parents and spend time with their grandchildren. The hope, she added, is another French-speaking entrepreneur will step in to run the store once their lease is up in early spring.
Boutique du Livre has become known for its wide selection of children’s books, written by authors from France and Quebec. While the Coudières primarily sell literature for readers 18 and younger, select adult books and French dictionaries are among the more than 5,000 titles on their shelves.
Lillian Klausen, a French-immersion teacher at Collège Pierre-Elliott Trudeau, often refers students and parents to the store, one of the rare locations in Winnipeg that sells books, games and other learning resources in French.
"It’s difficult, in our anglophone communities, to be able to find resources for our students," Klausen said, adding she’s been a customer since she first learned about the shop, when she studied at Université de Saint-Boniface.
The Coudières said they’ve seen growing demand from teachers and librarians over the last eight years — something they attribute, in part, to the spike in popularity of French immersion schooling in the city.
The total number of students enrolled in French immersion, between kindergarten to Grade 12, increased 36 per cent between 2006-07 and 2016-17.
A long-time customer, Emma Durand-Wood began shopping at Boutique du Livre with her children to encourage them to read outside their classrooms in Division scolaire franco-manitobaine. When her mother, a former librarian from Lethbridge, Alta., came to visit Durand-Wood, she also put in orders with the shop.
"We speak English and French at home, and we like books a lot," Durand-Wood said.
"I hope that somebody buys it. Being able to go and choose your own book, to buy good quality books for your family or for gifts, in the language that you want to read in, is really important, so I think any loss of that is a big loss for the city."
Her sentiments were echoed Monday by area Coun. Matt Allard.
"While I know that businesses come and go, this is definitely a loss," Allard said. "I want to thank the owners for their years of service to our French and St. Boniface communities."
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.