Oona Craig hopes to make books more accessible for everyone.
Craig says she hasn’t always imagined opening a used bookstore. The bookseller used to be a high school teacher and has taught everything from Latin to math in British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia.
“Well, they say your life path isn’t straight – and it’s definitely not straight,” Craig says.
Craig, who graduated from Dalhousie with a Master of Arts in classics in 1995, moved back to Halifax from Toronto six years ago with her husband Nick, who co-owns the bookstore.
The pair already directed a debate camp together, and bought the building on Agricola Street with the intention of opening another business.
It was after visiting a bookseller’s conference rife with glossy but expensive new books that Craig settled on a used bookstore.
“I decided that, although new books are beautiful, I didn’t want the pressure of selling new,” Craig says.
Leading up to opening, Craig bought about 4,500 books, and her husband renovated the space – a process she described as a team effort and a “labour of love.” The pair recruited their son to help with the job and even enlisted some of Craig’s former students to label books.
The results are impressive. The store is warm and woodsy, almost resembling a forest. Craig says her husband was inspired by the cedar woods they loved while living in British Columbia, and used a lot of the material during construction.
For Craig, a used bookstore is a great way to get literature out to a wider audience. She says reading can be too costly for some.
“I think it’s good to have something that’s accessible, because a new hardback could be $25 to $35, but ours are 60 per cent off the cover price,” she says.
The store has devised a number of other ways to get more books to more people. Every other month, the shop buys back customer books for store credit, and there is a shelf that holds books that go for a flat rate of three dollars, and some that are completely free of charge.
Craig is also glad the store is located on Agricola Street, which sees a lot of foot traffic.
“There’s so many people walking by,” she says. “It’s good that they can reach a store by foot and you don’t have to drive anywhere.”
The owner says she’s especially excited about the parts of the store targeted towards younger people. She recalls a great conversation about Percy Jackson and the Olympians she had with a girl who recently visited the store.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are – you can talk about books together,” Craig says. “It was really exciting to talk to someone young and help them find another book that I thought they might enjoy.”
Craig says the store is meant for absolutely everyone to enjoy – pets included.
“We don’t mind if there’s the odd dog,” Craig said with a smile.
Agricola Street Books opened two months ago, smack dab in the middle of the holiday season. Craig says they attempted to take advantage of the surge in gift-buying, which paid off. The store was a big hit.
“If you put out a book recommendation or a summary of a book with a book, it would just be gone within minutes.”
Craig says the demand was intense.
“People were really excited, but it was super busy,” she says. “I kind of worried about running out of books!”
Regardless, the bookseller is glad that the area has taken to the store.
“It’s fun being part of a neighbourhood, and it’s fun to think about books and share the love of books with people,” she says.