Share this post!

Last Modified: July 10, 2023
An exterior shot of Audreys Bookstore, showing the store awning.
Audreys: Edmonton’s Oldest Independent Bookstore

Audreys Books is located on the corner of Jasper Avenue and 107th St in downtown Amiskwaciwâskahikan, at the heart of the historic Maclean Block. The building has been a bank, a pharmacy, a haberdashery, and, since 1979 when Audreys moved in, a bookstore. “When this building was renovated in 1978 by Italian investors, it was near collapse, and the contractors almost deserted the project. They had to renegotiate a deal to press forward and finish the renos,” Steve Budnarchuk, one of the owners and one of my three interviewees, tells me.

Occupying the corner of the building grants Audreys double the window display space, and that’s all the better for us. As I approach, I see a display for Pride Month, which wraps around to a burst of colour. Alongside it is a display for Indigenous History Month, with titles representing all genres, including children’s literature.

A bell announces my entry. I smell the printed word.

The main counter lies to my left as I enter. I gaze deeper into the store: books are organized by genre from one corner all the way to the opposite corner. The walls of books are something every book lover dreams of. I make my way around one of the seven pillars in the store.

I notice that around five of the pillars, they’ve displayed feature books in various genres, including new releases. Just past the main counter, Canadiana is given a wall of its own. In front of it, not to be missed, Local Authors appear on a standalone shelf. It’s nice to read the bestsellers on everyone else’s TBR, but it’s also beautiful to realize the wealth of damn good writing happening right here in our city: Nisha Patel, Gavin Bradley, Wendy McGrath, Indra Ramayan, Alison Clarke, Norma Dunning, Jennifer Bowering Delisle, Rayanne Haines, Matthew James Weigel, Alice Major… I could run out of breath listing these names! And these are only the Edmonton authors.

Now what kind of bookstore invests in its local authors? Well, a good one. And a responsible one. When you meet the owners, Sharon and Steve Budnarchuk and their daughter Kelly, you immediately get the sense they love what they do, and they love who they do it for.

To begin, we discuss their star-studded group of employees. Levi, Winston, and Mika are among the nicest and smartest bookworms I know.

Audreys has a healthy number of longtime customers and, since COVID, they’ve noticed a rise of interest among younger readers and a renewed desire to buy local. We theorize that their success has much to do with their charming staff—each of them passionate readers who imbue that same enthusiasm for books in customers.

Their customer service is next-level, and their Audreys Book Club (ABC) membership pays for itself with a points system that feels too good to be true. It’s almost as if every four or five books one buys, one gets a freebie!

Any good bookseller has such a rich memory for customers—they remember your name, the title you last came in for, and what you like to read. “You know your doctor. You know your dentist. But do you know your bookseller?” Kelly remarks.

“That’s what I admire about your staff,” I reply. “They’ve always made terrific recommendations. Levi had me read a book about the career of a handful of poets. I loved it!” About their employees, Kelly says, “We work for them, really.” Their corporate culture is one of giving and encouragement. Audreys has their holiday gatherings in January: Sharon, Steve, and Kelly invite the staff over for a homecooked meal and a wholesome and fulsome gathering where they can grow their relationships and get to know each other.

While they don’t invite all their customers home, they do give back to the community in many ways. Sharon describes a revelation she had in the ’90s, when times were tough. One might think, on encountering hard times, a business should cut down on unnecessary costs. Yet, Sharon says, this is exactly the moment she began to think about giving back to the community: “Back in the 90s, I felt strongly we couldn’t just take from the community. We had to give back.” Unable to give monetarily, Sharon served on numerous boards and associations, donating her time with groups like the Downtown Business Association. She sat on the Fringe Festival Board of Directors for thirteen years. She was a founder of the Alberta Book Fair Society, which became LitFest, Edmonton’s annual nonfiction festival.

Steve and Sharon put forward the initial investment required to kick off the inaugural City of Edmonton Book Prize, now the Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Book Prize. The prize is now administered by the Edmonton Arts Council, and Audreys continues to contribute to the award. That investment in community is part of the bookstore’s success and appeal: When most bookstores were struggling to compete with large-format stores like Chapters and the onslaught of Amazon, they invested locally.

When asked about the best and most challenging parts of running a bookstore, Steve says, “Money. Money is the best and the worst part.” Fortunately, with the recent push for Support Local, Audreys is back to a place of relative ease; i.e., money’s not the only stressor on their minds anymore. Like many other local businesses, Audreys turned to online and curbside fulfillment during the pandemic and continue to do so.

As an Edmontonian, I am elated to hear that Audreys is set up well to continue serving our community well. Audreys was the very first place I found community when I moved to Edmonton. I still remember the book launch I attended: Measures of Astonishment, an anthology of poetry criticism published by University of Regina Press. Local writer Marco Melfi and a somewhat mythical man named Jean-Jacques came up to me after the open mic portion of the event and made sure to make me feel welcome. They succeeded.

Amidst the seemingly immortal narrative that books will die out, independent bookstores can thrive and are thriving because they are uniquely equipped to respond to their community in an immediate way— among other things, by focusing on the relevance of their displays.

Sharon, Steve, and Kelly recount how many positive experiences they’ve had with their display windows. In February of 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine, every window was yellow and blue. In a joint effort with Durvile & UpRoute Books, publisher of The Little Book: Story Reader for a Free Ukraine, and other partner bookstores, Audreys agreed to donate all profit from the sales of The Little Book.

Another display meant to shine light on the plight of Syrian and Afghani women brought a woman to tears when she walked in front of the window. These displays matter to the communities they reflect. “Passersby [see that people] do care about their situation. They don’t even have to come into the store to see that,” Kelly says.

The displays don’t all result in happy memories, unfortunately. A Black Lives Matter display led to a smashed window and a Pride display had pedestrians coming off the street to rant at their employees. Fortunately, Audreys is not intimidated that easily, and continues to offer a safe space for all.

As I exit back onto Jasper Ave after my visit, I can’t help but think that a bookstore’s display window is far better than a mirror. You only see yourself in a mirror. In a bookstore’s window, you see your semi-transparent self reflected before a wealth of creativity and perspectives.


Colby Clair Stolson lies on a rug with a stunned expression on his face. A typewriter rests on his stomach, and books are on the ground beside him. Colby Clair Stolson grew up somewhere in the in-between, in a town called Ponoka. Every day he asks himself, “Who knows if the moon’s/a balloon”? And some of those balloons have been published: in Edmonton’s Glass Buffalo and Funicular Magazine, and in Canada’s (via Ottawa) Touch the Donkey and periodicities.