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Reflections on Fifty Years of Bookselling by Burton Lysecki
June 1 marked the 50th anniversary of my becoming a bookseller. So I suppose a few reflections are in order.
It was a small paperback book exchange called Readers Book Exchange. Bill Loptston was the owner, and he started it up in the fall of 1970, and since he had a real job, he was open only on the weekends. It was the summer of 1971 and I was unemployed at the time. Michael Coey, a friend of mine, suggested that since I was beginning to get bored in my present situation, I might look into getting a job running the bookshop during the week.
Taking his advice I went and talked to the owner. Turns out he was tired of the whole thing and wasn’t sure what he was going to do with the business. When I suggested that perhaps he would sell it to me, he was receptive to the idea, so I thought I would do a little research. A tour of the Winnipeg used bookshops landed me at Hall’s Books in St. James which was operated by Clive Hall, a very dear and generous old man. When I walked into his shop and declared to him that I was thinking of getting into the used book business he looked at me and smiled, and said “ahh, a man of my own heart!”, and then gave me all the encouragement I needed to launch my lifelong career.
The price was $1,000 and it included a $76 per month lease on a 214 square foot storefront on Osborne Street, the present location of Monticcio Ristorante. The shop included a bunch of paperback racks along the walls and some more racks in the center mounted on tent-display boards. Couldn’t have been more than a couple of thousand paperbacks, some tired old hardcover books, and oh yeah, several thousand collectors comics – I think this was the first store in Winnipeg to deal in collectors comics. The desk was at the front by the door and the only place I could sit was on a piece of masonite placed on the radiator by the window. My ambition at the time was quite modest, merely to cover the rent and have a little bit left over. I made the rent on the first day.
Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t rolling in the money – in fact over the 50 years, being in the book business has always been an exercise in survival. There have been good times and there have been lean times.
After a few years I moved down the street to a slightly larger building where Black Market now operates and four or five years later, across the street to where we are now located, gradually improving the quality of the stock and expanding in size and scope. Early on I changed the name of the bookstore to Burton Lysecki Books in order to put my personal reputation behind the business.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the support of the more than 50 people who have worked with me in the shop over all those years, especially my wife Mary, and my four children Jake, Ruth, Nik and Clara, who were thoroughly immersed (indoctrinated?) in the world of books. Also a special shout-out to my friend Firoze, who sorted out our introduction to the world of the internet, and who has kept our computers running smoothly for more than 25 years; and to Karen Sigurdson who has been half-owner of the business for ten years and now does most of the heavy lifting. And of course, none of it would have been possible without the many thousands of bibliophiles from Winnipeg and indeed from all over the world who have encouraged and supported us by purchasing books from us.
From a tiny hole-in-the-wall to more than 3000 square feet with more than 100,000 carefully selected books, we have become one of the jewels in Winnipeg’s cultural scene. It’s been an interesting 50 years.Now, back to the present...
For the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, we're operating exclusively online, by email, and by phone. You can view our stock at Abebooks.com and Biblio.com. We also place specialized catalogues on this website for you to peruse. For other books that are not catalogued, you can email or phone us with your requests and we will search our shelves for you.
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Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen.
Ask us about our collection of Rubaiyats-some modern, some vintage.