135 Years Young

135 Years Young

April 28, 2020

Hi Bibliophiles!

Don't worry, there won't always be two newsletters in one month. Eventually we'll be busy talking books and events and authors in person but for now we want to give you a peek at how we got here and how the River Bookshop came to be....by way of (perhaps) biweekly newsletters 

We are hoping that with relaxed Covid regulations being talked about our renovations will begin again before too long and we are still optimistic for a late summer opening. 

We can't wait to be open!!

And now without further ado, here's a little history of our building. Enjoy!

135 YEARS YOUNG

The history of Amherstburg goes back all the way to 1796. It is probably best known for its involvement in the War of 1812 and its rich history is definitely a point of difference versus other small Ontario towns. Unfortunately, over the years many of Amherstburg’s historic properties have been torn down, either in the name of progress, or, again unfortunately, for more parking. One just has to walk around the town core to see lot after lot. I often say that Amherstburg’s history has been hollowed out by parking. Despite a popular belief that the town needs more parking it actually needs less and some of the existing lots should be redeveloped to increase the town’s density and walkability. But a debate over more parking or less parking can wait for another day.  Safe to say our bookshop will have an excellent section on proper urban planning. 

When we had the chance to purchase 67 Richmond we did it for two key reasons. One: we wanted to have our River Bookshop in an historic building that reinforced our “bookshop” brand positioning. We also wanted to purchase it out of a desire to save and restore a part of Amherstburg’s history. The building was built in 1885 by C.M.S. Thomas and he opened “The Richmond Street Drug Store. In the old photos you can see how he boldly advertised  “DRUGS AND MEDICINE “ on his Ramsey Street wall and a simple large “DRUGS” on the west wall facing  west down Richmond. 

Today with Ontario’s new cannabis laws a  “drugs” sign sure   would convey a whole new meaning for the store today. Thomas offered a broad variety of goods and services: “prescriptions - promptly prepared at all hours ... a choice of perfumes ... liquor ... tea ...”. A product line up not all that different today from one at Rexall Drugs. As one goes down the steps to the stone basement there is still an old inventory list stapled to the rafter. Thomas was a well respected druggist in Amherstburg for 49 years and passed away in 1927 at 72 years of age. 

Over the years 67 Richmond has housed many different retail formats and the building has been renovated several times. On the exterior two original windows on the Ramsey side were covered over, while the windows in the front were replaced by much smaller windows. Hardy board replaced the original block wood siding and the buildings original white exterior was replaced with a dark gray-green colour. A small addition was added to the south side of the building.

Our restoration is bringing back the two side windows and the large front display windows. We are also painting the building white again and the original “Drugs and Medicine” ad gave us the inspiration for a very unique mural that you will see when we open. The addition at the back has given us the space to create a very fun kids area in the store.  Unfortunately there was nothing much left to save in the interior. There was brick furnace stack in the middle of the room and we are using those original bricks to build a fire place, that book readers can sit beside and enjoy, when checking out our thousands of books. The building was late Victorian so we have challenged our design team to come up with a “Victorian new and now” interior.  You will have to visit to see if we succeeded. 

Restoring 67 Richmond has been one part investment and one part giving back to our community. River Bookshop will be opening when it is safe for all Amherstburg retail outlets to be safe to open. We hope it will be an inspiration for other store owners to restore their buildings - all with the goal of making Amherstburg an even better place to live and visit.  

Richard Peddie 

Bookseller 

Note: a special thanks to Meg Reiner at the Marsh Collectionfor sharing with us articles on the history of the building. The Marsh Collection is right across the street from our Bookshop at 80 Richmond.  Even if you aren’t a real history buff it’s definitely worth a visit.