An iconic Winnipeg independent bookstore celebrates 40 years in business this weekend, but it’s not the only anniversary it’s celebrating.
McNally Robinson is also celebrating 25 years at its flagship Grant Park Mall location and nine years since a former entry-level employee rose through the ranks to buy the company.
“We’re celebrating 40 years of reading,” co-owner Chris Hall told CBC Manitoba. Weekend morning show Saturday.
Hall was not there in 1981, when Paul and Holly McNally, as well as Ron Robinson (who later hosted the CBC Manitoba show weekend morning show), opened the first location on Kenaston Boulevard and Grant Avenue in Winnipeg.
But Hall began as a bookseller at Grant Park Mall when it opened to the public in 1996.
“Twenty-five years ago yesterday we actually opened a grand opening with an appearance by Margaret Atwood.… So I was there on day one,” he said.
Hall spent that day in 1996 frantically trying to get the store ready, pushing books off the shelves before Atwood was ready to speak.
The acclaimed author came to visit the store that afternoon as the staff got ready – “I think she wanted to take a look at what she got into,” Hall said.
At some point in the afternoon Atwood disappeared. She returned with gifts of bananas and granola bars for staff that she had gone to buy at a nearby grocery store, Hall said.
The weekend morning show (Manitoba)9:04Beloved bookstore celebrating multiple birthdays this weekend!
When Hall applied for a job at the bookstore, he was looking for a short-term job and had no idea he would end up taking over the business from the original owners.
Over the years, Hall took on more and more responsibility at the store and became close to the McNally family.
“We were talking about my bigger role as they thought about retiring. So I started taking business classes at Asper School. [of Business at the University of Manitoba]”said Hall.
“In my mind, I thought I was going to become a bit like the CEO of the place and that there would be the owners. But a few years later, Paul [McNally] came to see me and I wondered if I would be interested in buying into the place since they were going to retire later. “
The bookseller turned businessman finally decided he wanted to take on the challenge.
“I couldn’t imagine where else I wanted to be,” Hall said.
He believes there is something really special about the bookstore, which also has branches at The Forks in Winnipeg and Saskatoon.
“We’ve met so many creative people and then the customers who come to support us and shop with us when everyone knows they have other alternatives – some of them are cheaper, and yet they support us,” Hall mentioned.
“I think there is magic in there, because none of these pieces are sufficient on their own… It really is the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. And that is the magic of McNally Robinson, I think. “