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How a 30-year-old bookstore in rural Ontario is surviving a changing industry

The mother-daughter duo behind a long-running Arnprior, Ont., bookstore say building a strong community of support is the secret behind their three decades of being open. 

Gwen Storie first opened The Arnprior Book Shop in 1993, a time she called the golden age for independent bookstores, before online shopping retailers and e-books.

Coming from a family that loved books, Storie said opening the shop was a long-time dream. 

“It was scary, but I did it and I have never been sorry,” she told CBC’s All In A Day

The shop, now called White Pine Books, recently celebrated its 30 year anniversary on April 1.

In 2018, Storie took a step back from the shop and sold the business to her daughter, Jen Rusheleau, who’s turning the next chapter for the small, family-owned store.

The outside of a storefront with trucks and a few cars seen passing by.
Called the Arnprior Book Shop at the time, White Pine Books has been a staple in the Arnprior community since 1993. This photo showing the exterior of the shop was taken sometime around 1995. (Submitted by Jen Rusheleau)

The shop changing hands was a bit of an adjustment at first, but Rusheleau said for the first year, she took the time to learn from her mother and to watch what worked.

“Mom still sort of vetoed a lot of my suggestions or decisions but that has definitely switched at this point in the game,” she said.

“I’m confident to say that, you know, I’m the boss now.”

Bookselling ‘an art’

Running the bookstore while raising four children wasn’t always easy, Storie said, especially during the first five years of opening back in the 90s. Now, she considers the bookstore to be her fifth child. 

“It was hard swinging at the beginning, but we became part of the community and now most people can’t even remember Arnprior without a bookstore,” she said. 

Over the years, Storie said the shop has been able to host several iconic Canadian authors, including Timothy Findley and Farley Mowat. 

A group of five people standing on the sidewalk in front of a bookstore.
Author Timothy Findley, on the far right, was one of several authors who had signings at the bookstore over the years. From left, bookstore staff Pamela Mitchel and Debbie Gahan, Findley’s partner William Whitehead, founder Gwen Storie and Findley. (Submitted by Jen Rusheleau)

The book-selling industry has changed over time, but Storie said nothing can replace human connection and finding the right book for someone through having a conversation.

“To be a bookseller is actually an art. It’s an art to put the right book in the person’s hands at the right time,” she said, adding it’s “way better than an algorithm on the internet.”

All in a Day12:59Arnprior bookstore celebrates 30 years in business

A mother-daughter duo look back on the years they spent at White Pine Books

The next chapter 

Across Canada, several bookstores have closed in the past few years — with the changing habits of readers and shifting industry, the COVID-19 pandemic or unaffordable rent among reasons for the shuttered doors. 

For White Pine Books, being embraced by Arnprior has helped them remain steady over the years. 

“I find it always comes back to the community supporting you,” Rusheleau said of how the business has stayed open for 30 years. 

Now, Rusheleau is hoping to build on that success and wants the business to become a community hub, holding more social events and hosting more author signings.

Several people walking around the inside of a bookstore, with balloons seen in the background.
People gathered at White Pine Books to celebrate its 30 year anniversary on April 1. The Arnprior shop was first opened in 1993. (Submitted by Jen Rusheleau)

“I’d like to bring that back somehow, figure out a way to get those people out on the road again,” she said.

Canadian novelist Elizabeth Hay will be doing a signing at the shop on June 1, and Rusheleau said Sarah Polley is another author she’d like the store to host one day. 

Rusheleau said she wants to remain true to her mother’s original vision of the bookstore, while still adding a new touch. 

Alongside a supportive community, she said the bookstore also has incredible staff who have become like family. 

“If you have good people around you in your corner, you know you can’t really go wrong.”

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