Landmark Cochrane bookstore vacates old-town site

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 5, 2007

Terry Garvin, left, and Mike Veloski help move books from George Parry’s Westlands Bookstore in preparation for its re-opening in a new location, soon to be announced.

George Parry, right, discusses a book launch with Garvin, a Calgary author, at Westlands earlier this year.
—Photos by Warren Harbeck

For a generation George Parry’s Westlands Bookstore has been the meeting place of writers and readers in a recently revitalized old-town Cochrane. Located between Westlands Art Gallery and Cochrane Coffee Traders, and just around the corner from the legendary MacKay’s Ice Cream shop, George’s bookstore has been a stimulating and valued presence in what local author Art Norris praises as the “cultural centre of Alberta.”

The building Westlands has occupied for 18 years has been sold, and in anticipation of re-opening in a new location soon to be announced, the landmark bookstore closed its familiar doors last week for the last time, shelves emptied and dismantled, the informed discussions around picnic tables on the lawn shared between the bookstore and Coffee Traders already somehow diminished.

I’ve long regarded George as one of my heroes, and visits to this gracious gentleman’s store became part of my daily routine. I’d pick up a cup of dark roast at Coffee Traders, chat with a few folks around the tables and in shops across the street, then mosey into George’s.

George has developed an international reputation as a dealer in books on Western Canadian heritage, a specialization that was apparent the moment one entered his store. He knew every book on his shelves as personal friends.

As I walked from the entrance to his office at the back, I’d pass by books on mountain lore, First Nations, ranching, environment, lives well lived, wordsmithing, motivation and more, many by local authors, some by authors who journeyed great distances to hold their book-launches at his store.

Always for George, people have priority over profits. In a previous column (Dec. 19, 2001) I told of the time some late winters ago when George looked out the front window of this very store and saw a seriously inebriated fellow fall flat on his face into deep slush in the middle of the street, nearly invisible to vehicles trying to negotiate the day’s treacherous roads. Excusing himself from the pair of customers he was serving, and just in his plaid shirt sleeves, George dashed outside, helped the dripping-wet fellow up, led him through the store, past the customers, settled him down by a comfy wood fire in the back, and served him coffee. Only when this unexpected guest was safe did George return to his customers.

I’m sure there are many of our coffee companions who have their own special memories of George and his presence in the centre of old-town Cochrane. And I’m just as sure that in his new location the legend-making will continue – yes, with different neighbours, but with the same heart and mind. But for me, my morning routine will never be quite the same.

A coffee-cup toast to you, George, a man who so beautifully defines the soul of our community. Let us know when you re-open in your new location.

© 2007 Warren Harbeck

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