Independent book store turns the page

Dan and Marlene MacDonald have purchased the Bookmark stores in Charlottetown and Halifax

Dave Stewart
Published on August 16, 2014

Marlene and Dan MacDonald, new owners of the Bookmark in Charlottetown place books on the store shelves.

©Guardian photo by Heather Taweel

Dan MacDonald has started another chapter in a business legacy that began in Charlottetown 42 years ago.

MacDonald and his wife Marlene recently purchased one of the few remaining independent book stores in Atlantic Canada.

Bookmark Inc. was founded in Charlottetown in 1972 and has been at its present location in the Confederation Court Mall since 1980. The business expanded into Nova Scotia in 1989, opening a location on Spring Garden Road in Halifax.

"Books are a passion of mine,'' Dan MacDonald tells The Guardian. "I'm very excited about it. Owning a book store is something I've thought about for the last 10 to 15 years.''

Dan and Marlene purchased the Bookmark from the estate of Rodney Jones, the store's long-time owner who died more than a year ago.

Gary MacLeod, president of Bookmark Inc., said Jones' daughters, Tarra Drevet and Charla Jones, wanted to ensure that the stores would have continued success in both Charlottetown and Halifax "with a new owner who would have the vision to continue operating both locations with the same passion that Rodney had''.

His daughters issued a statement to the media through the MRSB Group, which handled the sale.

"We are so proud of the business which our father established and built over the last 40 years,'' Drevet and Jones said. "We believe that Dan and Marlene will be able to maintain and grow the business based upon the successful framework established by our father.''

No changes are planned at either location and all staff have been retained.

Dan MacDonald said keeping the staff was a rather easy decision.

He said the people who work at the two book stores are one of the big factors which separate the big chain stores like Indigo from the small independents.

"One is the selection of books and the other is the staff. If you're a customer coming into an independent book store the staff, well, let's just say our manager here has been here for 25 years. She knows the market, she knows the people and she knows books.''

Marlene MacDonald said the couple believes books and reading contribute to a healthy society.

"We want to be part of building and supporting a strong local economy,'' Marlene MacDonald said.

Dan MacDonald has more than 30 years experience in the retail industry, including seven years of specialty book retailing with Marlene. Dan has worked in various management roles with Co-op Atlantic from 1978-2013. He has an extensive background in setting up businesses, hiring and training management teams, designing and implementing growth strategies and providing continued sales, marketing and operational support.

Dan MacDonald said he never had the pleasure of knowing Rodney Jones.

"I didn't know Rodney but I was well aware of the stores. I thought a lot about both stores just because of the staff that's in them and the assortment of books that they have. That's what led me to wanting to purchase them.''

The Bookmark is well known for its support of local authors and that will continue, if not expand.

Dan is well aware of the challenge of running an independent up against the big chains and online retailers such as Amazon. The key is to play to the strengths of what Bookmark has always been about.

"Part of running a book store is connecting customers with books. That's what good independent book stores excel at.''

Bookmark stores have received many accolades over the years. Last September, Travel and Escape listed both stores in the Best Bookstores to Visit in Canada, saying "In Atlantic Canada, Bookmark Inc. is the place to go for your books''.

That's exactly what Dan MacDonald would like to see people do. Drop by, have a conversation, see what makes an independent store stand out.

"I'd like to invite people to come in and have a look.''