When you pull the heavy gate at 430 St Pierre Street, you have to climb a few steps before finally reaching Library Bertrand. The floor squeaks a little and when you step between the shelves, it feels like all the knowledge of the books sink into you. Claire Martinez, purchase manager for the French-speaking section, is waiting for us at the back of the store, in a beautiful upper room with decorated walls that’s not allowed to the public.
“It’s difficult to be an independent bookshop, you have to fight every day! For example, we don’t get the newly released books right away, they are first sent to bigger shops. We can only hope our clients will be patient but to compensate, we give them a top-quality service!” explains Claire Martinez straightaway.
“We also have another asset: we are the only independent bilingual bookshop here in Montreal. In our shop, we offer books in French and in English and we want to highlight this particularity because it’s a way for us to answer the needs of our clients in the Old-Montreal and the tourists who visit us.”
When it comes to the current market, the regulations are really strict. “What’s interesting is that we have a license to provide English books to schools. It guarantees us a source of income, but it also compels us to have 6000 English books. We are not compelled to have French books, but that’s something really important to us.”
If popular books can be found in both languages, Claire still observes a special affinity when it comes to languages and some topics: “They are some themes that we rarely buy in French, like science books for example. In French we prefer fiction books, business books, or those about religion/spirituality or even History. For the English books, poetry, science and biography are well-liked among the public.” she points out.
“With the books, we can clearly see what the current issues are. After the #Metoo movement, books about feminism and strong women were very present, especially for the younger public. When it comes to children, there are really trying to promote inclusion and show how to manage one’s feelings. The other big trend in books, is the one about the Zero Waste approach, it’s like a return to nature. As a bookshop, we are at the front seat to witness the new movements and the changes in society.”
“Today, our job is not to grow the shop but rather to be known among the workers and residents of the Old-Montreal.” mentions Claire. The bookshop likes collaborating with other establishments of the neighborhood and the team gladly embarks on new projects: Hotel Saint-James is redoing its library? No problem, Library Bertrand has everything to keep the bookshelves afloat! The Centaur is having a new play? The Grande Braderie is having a book signing? L’Ateliers Saveurs is organizing an event? No worries, the bookshop will bring out all the books necessary, whether it’s about fashion or gourmet food.
“We are always happy to have a collaboration; it’s really rewarding for everyone to have that kind of exchange!” explains Claire with enthusiasm.
“What we want, is that the people and workers of the Old-Montreal know that we’re here.”
And it’s perfect, because they also have a 10% discount specially for the #gensduvieux!
Library Bertrand was founded in 1952 and moved several times but the team has never felt more at home than in the Old-Montreal! “Here, we have really well-educated customers, who are most of the time bilinguals, and they are after more knowledge. Clients come into the shop to buy books that we might not even know and that’s very satisfying!” says Claire Martinez with a smile.
“When it comes to new releases, we really want to emphasize what clients love for the books from here. And for the foreign titles, we will promote the Literary Prices and the well-known authors but we also want to give new books a chance by offering them to our clients.” she points out.
Claire joined the bookshop before moving into the locals here in the Old-Montreal and for that, she changed her stay in Canada that was initially planned for a year only. Beside the better knowledge on Quebecker and Canadian societies that she got through the authors she was exposed to, “this job really helped my integration here. It’s like a family and I felt really welcomed. The relationships at work are different from the ones in France and it’s already been 7 years since I've been here.”
I have a literary background and I specialized in library records. When I graduated, I was a substitute in some libraries and today, I get to go to work with a smile on my face every morning and I feel like I have a job that holds a value.” What Claire really likes is when clients give each other recommendation or come back after someone recommended them a book. “When that happens, I feel like I did my duty and the bookshop becomes a place of exchange and encounters and everything just makes sense!”