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N.S. bookstore overcomes fire, COVID-19, now construction in Sydney

Every title inside On Paper Books in downtown Sydney tells a story, and the bookstore itself has a tale of its own.

"We opened in December of 2020, so I always tell people that we're COVID babies,” bookstore co-owner Alison Uhma said.

Uhma and her partner Donnie Calabrese purchased stock from a second-hand bookstore in Sackville N.B. in hopes of starting their own store. It wasn’t long before the location they were renting burnt down in a fire.

"After the first location we were renting burned down, we decided that we would open a new and used bookstore,” Uhma said.

The pair found a new location and the business has been up and running on Charlotte Street in Sydney for about two and a half years.

Now, there’s another hurdle to overcome.

Major construction is ongoing on the block in front of their store as part of downtown Sydney’s redevelopment project. Uhma said this has reduced foot traffic.

"I'm an optimist. But I'm really looking forward to when it's done,” Uhma said.

"I think it's going to be really great for the downtown. It's a little bit slower, but we were expecting that. So we're just looking forward to the rejuvenation project being complete."

All of these business challenges are in addition to having to compete with retail giants like Amazon and big box stores.

However, by focusing on local authors and bringing them in for events and book signings, Uhma says there's a market for what they offer.

"I never really consider that a battle, or being up against something,” Uhma said about competing for book sales with big box stores.

“I always say, you know, they have a rocket ship and we have a Honda Fit. It's just different lifestyles."

Like the titles they carry, the bookstore’s owner agrees that the shop’s story is not boring.

"No, it's not. It's stranger than fiction, probably,” Uhma said with a laugh.

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