I’ve known Kelly Hughes for many years now, and known and appreciated his off-beat sense of humour. So, when this morning I got an e-mail whose subject read Aqua Books and Eat! Bistro to Close, I immediately started reading it looking for the punch line. Alas, when I opened it, I discovered the subject line was telling it like it is. Very soon there will be no more Aqua Books and no more Eat Bistro. They are in fact, closing for good, but not quite yet.
Having known Kelly and Candace for as long as I have I can say I’ve been a fan of the store before it even opened. As a customer, I was there from pretty much the earliest days when it was still called Aslan & Frodo’s and located on Notre Dame Avenue. I came to the store after it was renamed Aqua and followed down into the exchange and finally to its current home on Garry.
Even before the store moved into its current digs, Kelly was working to make it a centre for events as well as books, an idea that came into full flower at the Garry location. The last time I heard him mention it, I believe Aqua was hosting over 300 events a year.
The purchase of the Garry site also saw the birth of Eat! Bistro. Offering a variety of meals and desserts that were almost entirely made from scratch, Eat! soon became a popular lunch hour and before event destination for downtown dining. Personally I’m going to miss the Chicken Dippers the most. Eat! also specialized in celiac-friendly weeks, and along the way, I think, heightened the general awareness of the challenges people with celiac issues face when dining out.
Over the years I’ve purchased many books at Aqua. I’ve also sold and given a few books to them. I’ve eaten several times at Eat!. I’ve been to theological discussions, poetry readings, book readings, jazz concerts, folk concerts, Fringe shows, and of course, a couple of time to Kelly Hughes Live, Kelly’s Friday night talk show.
The latter to my mind, embodies best, what Winnipeg will be losing with the closing of Aqua and Eat! Kelly is a relentless promoter and this is what he did with this show. Certainly it contained a good deal of self-promotion along with promotion for the store, but at the same time the show involve the promotion of people within the arts scene here in Winnipeg. It was enjoyable to hear writers speak about themselves in a way you wouldn’t necessarily get to in other settings. With KHL you got to see the performer as person and that’s a valuable gift.
The other thing Kelly promoted relentlessly was our downtown. Whether he was berating the parking authority for not having a clue, or refusing to buy into the downtown is unsafe mantra that is the calling card of so many of those who write about Winnipeg, Kelly constantly kept attention focused on the positive side of downtown life. I know his unique brand of humour and blunt style of speech didn’t set well with everyone, but I fear that with Aqua Books gone downtown Winnipeg will lose an important voice for its betterment.
So Kelly, Candace, it’s been a great run. I’m sorry to see the place closing down, but while it has been here, it’s been a boon and a blessing for downtown Winnipeg, and I know you will both find new ventures to pour your talents into. Venture that will be for the betterment of this city, one way or another.