Investigating the history of Winnipeg’s mysterious old bookstore

Whether passionate about Poirot or hungry for Holmes, Winnipeg mystery obsessives have had a local haven for more than 30 years in which to seek out their latest readers.

Detective novel? Mystery Bookstore has been a fixture on Lilac Street since it opened its doors in 1993.

Like many classic mystery tales, the story of Whodunit? It began in a smoky pub on the main streets of London, England.

Well, not entirely.

It all began on the equally intriguing courts of Winnipeg’s Taylor Tennis Center in the ’90s. Frequent doubles partners Henrietta Wilde and Gaylene Chestnut, two names that sound like something out of an Agatha Christie thriller, spent as much time meeting as they did discussing their shared passion. for mystery novels.

At the time, Wilde was reading Carolyn Hart’s series “A Death on Demand,” which followed the adventures of a mysterious bookstore owner who solved crimes. The series gave Wilde inspiration for his next chapter.

“I thought owning a mystery bookstore sounded really interesting,” he told CTV News Winnipeg in an interview from his home in British Columbia.

“There were no mystery bookstores in Winnipeg and I didn’t know of any in Canada.”

Wilde, who inherited a love of mysteries from his Perry Mason-reading parents, found a storefront on Lilac Street that used to house an elegant children’s clothing store. The rent was reasonable and he thought the foot traffic from nearby Corydon Avenue could be a boon to the business.

She didn’t want to take the responsibility alone, so she decided to approach her ally in court to be her partner in the criminal trade.

“I thought it sounded really fun,” Chestnut said of the offer. “We were really very green, but we had a rule in society: that our husbands could not have anything to do with the store.”

Henrietta Wilde and Gaylene Chestnut are pictured with writer Michael Connelly after a reading at Whodunit? Mysterious Bookstore in 2005. (Gaylene Chestnut)

With that, who is it? He was born in the summer of 1993.

What they lacked in experience and technical capacity (they gave up a digitized inventory system for a manual card system), they made up for in passion.

“Our goal was to provide really good customer service because in a lot of bookstores, half the staff doesn’t know the product or a lot of them were just salespeople,” Chestnut said.

While both owners were passionate mystery readers, their knowledge of the genre was different but complementary.

“I like cozy mysteries more and Gaylene is more hardcore, so it worked perfectly. All of our clients knew what we both liked, so they would know who to go to for a recommendation,” Wilde said.

As the years passed, the duo hosted dozens of author readings, brought in computers, wrote a monthly newsletter, and created countless memories along with other mysterious obsessives who became their loyal customer base.

Henrietta Wilde and Gaylene Chestnut pose with author Ian Rankin at a 2004 appearance by the author on Whodunit? Mysterious Bookstore. (Gaylene Castaño)

Does the plot thicken in Whodunit?

In 2007, Wilde and Chestnut’s husbands were nearing retirement and the duo was ready to turn the page on their beloved bookstore.

They sold the business to husband and wife Jack and Wendy Bumsted, a college history teacher and a high school history teacher, respectively. The couple were loyal customers before taking over.

“We bought it on a whim, I admit,” Wendy said. “We were big readers and Jack, in particular, had a vast knowledge of mysteries, so that was an advantage.”

Wendy and Jack Bumsted appear in an undated photo outside Whodunit? Misterio Bookstore on Lila Street. (Who? Mystery Bookstore)

Today, who is it? has expanded into the store next door, offering more than just mysteries.

The Bumsteds’ son Michael, who has just completed a PhD abroad, also joined the team in 2014.

The family overcame many challenges while running the store, whether it was competing with massive e-commerce giants like Amazon or the numerous lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID really expanded our online presence and since then, we’ve done a lot more, so we now sell books all over the world. We send books to Australia, Taiwan, Spain, Greece and all kinds of places,” Wendy said.

The pandemic was also instrumental, Michael said, in showing booksellers how supportive their customer base could be.

“It was so powerful in terms of feeling like the community supports us. There were people from around the neighborhood who said: ‘I don’t really read many mysteries, but I want to support you so that you can continue here later.’ They would buy our nonfiction, our biographies, our science fiction novels or whatever from us.”

Michael Bumsted is shown holding a small portion of the store’s considerable stock in an undated photo. (Who? Mystery Bookstore)

‘Deeply connected to their communities’

Laura Carter, executive director of the Canadian Independent Booksellers Association (CIBA), says stores like Whodunit? They face several challenges in keeping up with corporate competition, particularly the increasing costs of nationwide shipping.

Still, they can compete with the Amazons and Chapters of the world because of their intrinsic connection with their customers.

“They are deeply connected to their communities and interact with them daily,” he said.

“They can also pivot quickly to address the changing needs of their customers. So during the pandemic, for example, many of our stores quickly began offering curbside pickup and local delivery, often done by the bookstore staff themselves, so it’s that deep connection to the community that we really didn’t “It has parallels.”

Whodunit’s ever-expanding inventory? Mystery Bookstore is pictured on May 6, 2024. (Danny Halmarson/CTV News Winnipeg)

Celebrating decades of Whodunit?

Back on Lilac Street, the Bumsteds are planning a belated 30th anniversary for the store in November, while the family’s 20th anniversary at the helm won’t be celebrated until 2027.

Wendy and Michael can be found at Whodunit? most days. Sadly, Jack passed away in 2020 and is missed by many clients who relied on his expertise.

“They believed he was an authority on books,” Wendy said.

“None of us have the seriousness or as much time to read in the store as he does at that moment, so that makes it a little more difficult.”

Jack and Wendy Bumsted appear in an undated photo in Whodunit? Mysterious Bookstore. The couple, long-time customers, bought the business in 2007. (Who? Mystery Bookstore)

As for the former owners, both Wilde and Chestnut have fond memories of their days among the shelves at Whodunit.

“I don’t miss the store. “I don’t miss the job, but I miss the people, our customers,” Chestnut said.

“I miss talking to people. Our clients were great. “I can’t believe how good those years were,” Wilde said.

The original crime novel? Owners Henrietta Wilde and Gaylene Chestnut are shown with author Lee Child in 2005. (Gaylene Chestnut)

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