My boots tap on the faux-wood floor as I walk into Leeds County Books in downtown Brockville. The brightness and warmth of the store is a welcome retreat from the damp, cool winter weather outside. It’s late Friday afternoon in mid-February and the store’s owner, Courtney Sadler, greets me with an affable smile.
Nestled on the corners of St. Andrew and King Streets, Leeds County Books has become a constant among the ever-changing storefronts in this river town’s downtown core. But, through three owners and at least four locations, Leeds County Books has always had a downtown presence.
The store was opened in the mid-1970s by Murray McGregor and bought by Pat and Jake Belanger in 1997. The Belangers had friends in Brockville and had visited the waterfront town numerous times. When the independent book store came up for sale, it was an opportunity for the husband and wife team to relocate to a town they had enjoyed visiting and semi-retire.
When the Belangers bought the store, there were two locations—one in Brockville and a smaller, seasonal store in Gananoque. “We always had our children helping us run and manage that store,” says Jake Belanger. But in 2006, that set-up was no longer practical so they closed the Gananoque location and focused on the Brockville store.
Initially, Belanger says he and his wife planned to own the store for 10 to 12 years. So, in 2011 after 14 years at the helm, they decided it was time to move on. “It was time to bring in some new blood and new ideas.”
But they weren’t about to simply dump the store that had become so thoroughly encrusted in Brockville business and book community. It was important that they find the right buyer, says Belanger. “We wanted to make sure the store continued,” he says. And Sadler was just the fit they were looking for.
For Sadler, buying the store was about making her dreams into a reality. A business graduate from Algonquin College, she’s always wanted to be an entrepreneur — after she gave up wanting to be a librarian. Owning an independent book store is a marriage of those two dreams. “Sometimes I still turn around and think, ‘this is my store!’,” Sadler says. “It’s weird, getting used to it. It’s surreal.”
When Sadler took over ownership two years ago (April 26 to be exact), she set out to bring the store up to speed with the digital times. One of the first things she did was create the store’s website. “I designed the website myself, which was a learning experience,” says Sadler.
The site currently promotes store merchandise, loyalty programs, local authors and allows visitors to order books online. Although e-books aren’t available yet (Sadler’s working on it!) customers can place orders for books that are currently in stock or reserve copies of forthcoming ones.
Outside of being a marketing tool, the website has become a valuable resource with about 10% of the store’s business coming from online—a number that Sadler is happy with given that customers have only been able to buy online for about a year. “I have one customer that has all her mystery books ordered until July,” says Sadler.
Sadler has also given Leeds County Books a social media presence—that’s right, you can find them on Facebook. Currently the store has a following of just over 130, but Sadler says it’s a great way to get the name out there and promote not just what’s happening at the store, but also with Brockville’s local writing community.
Leeds County Books has always made local authors a priority, and Sadler is a fervent supporter. She frequently has book signings and carries over 30 local author titles in her store. The books are there on consignment and when they sell, authors get a percentage of the sale—a larger one than they get at the big-box giants.
Sadler admits that competition is one of the biggest challenges of owning an independent book store, but has built a solid customer base through some special services. “People come here because they know we have local books, regional books, we do a ton of special ordering, we’ll keep track of your authors for you so when a new book comes out, we let you know—it’s the personal service.”
When Sadler isn’t working in the store she’s researching titles and hand picking books to order. Like any small business, being the owner can be all encompassing—but Sadler looks forward to the challenge and is excited for what is to come in the industry and for the next chapter of Leeds County Books.
By April Scott-Clarke
April Scott-Clarke is a fulltime writer and editor, mom, wife and outdoor enthusiast. She writes on business, HR and
lifestyle topics. She’s written for a number of titles including CBC.ca, Moneysense.ca and Profit. April grew up on the
outskirts of Brockville and although she doesn’t live in the area anymore, she’s a frequent visitor. Follow her on Twitter