Tattletales Books spreads stories for 20 years

20 years on, Tattletales Books in Dartmouth is helping a new generation of children fall in love with reading
Tattletales Books Dartmouth NS-Anne
Anne Whebby and a young customer share a story in a quiet corner of the store. Photo credit: Joseph Muise

20 years on, Tattletales Books in Dartmouth is helping a new generation of children fall in love with reading

Two decades in business is a milestone in any industry. But with so many independent book stores closing in recent years, the 20th anniversary of Tattletales Books in Dartmouth, NS, seems especially remarkable.

Tattletales began as a kind of dream for Anne Whebby. “I began to think about opening a children’s book store when my kids first went to school,” says Whebby, who manages the store and co-owns it with her five siblings. “It just seemed like there were so many books out there. I developed a real passion for spreading the word about good children’s books.”

That passion was transformed into a family-owned-and-operated book and toy store that opened in Penhorn Mall in Dartmouth in July 1995.

Tattletales train table
The store’s train table is a popular stop for young shoppers, as is the couch next to it for parents who need a quick break and a comfy seat. Photo credit: Joseph Muise

The siblings batted around many suggestions for names, but eventually Tattletales stuck. “My brother Vince, who’s a power-walker, came up with the name on one of his walks,” Whebby recalls. “He said, ‘We can’t keep secrets. Spreading stories is our business.’ and that stuck as our slogan.”

The family, who has deep roots in Dartmouth, decided Penhorn Mall was a perfect location for the store. It was a well-known, thriving mall 20 years ago, and accessible to people from Halifax and Bedford. The store was designed to welcome families, with comfy chairs to curl-up in and cozy play spaces for kids, including a much-loved train table. Events and author presentations were held outside the store in one of the mall’s interior courtyards.

The business had many loyal customers, but the mall grew quiet as the big box stores of Dartmouth Crossing drew shoppers away. In 2010, prior to Penhorn’s demolition, Tattletales moved to a newly built strip-mall across the parking lot from its former home. The new space has the same family-friendly, welcoming feel and popular play spaces.

Prior to the move, it became apparent that the family needed to rethink its business plan to counteract the effect of dwindling foot traffic. They flipped the focus from retail sales to wholesale, a move that Whebby says kept the business afloat in tough economic times.

Whebby is philosophical when she talks about the technology that competes with books these days. “Yes, we share our time with computers and iPods and video games, but that’s okay. That’s the world that kids live in, but it just makes it all the nicer when they come back to books and my experience is that they do.”

“I had a mother in a little while ago who said her child refused to read. It wasn’t that he couldn’t read. He just refused to. I sent three books home with her and next thing I know, she’s calling and saying ‘I can’t get him to turn his light out at night. He’s staying up to read!’ Now that is pretty gratifying.”

Tattletales Bookroom shelves
Many of Tattletales’ shelving units were purchased from The Book Room in Halifax. Once Canada’s oldest book store, The Book Room closed its doors in 2008, but parts of  it will always live on in Dartmouth. Photo credit: Joseph Muise

The sheer number of books available for children has grown greatly during Tattletales’ life, Whebby says. “There are more books on the shelves and more types of books. There are more books available that reflect different cultures. And of course there are ebooks, though I am finding that children still want to hold a book and turn real pages.”

One of Tattletales’ biggest successes is in its ability as a small business to give back to the community says Whebby.  The “Coins for Books” campaign has become an annual fundraiser. Each February, participating schools hold a coin drive. The funds raised are used towards purchasing books at Tattletales for the schools and the schools also receive a percentage of funds collected by other sources including regional publishers, the Halifax Regional School Board and the bookstore. In the past eight years, the campaign has placed over $800,000 worth of books into local schools.  

“Even though our business emphasis has had to change, I don’t think we’ve ever lost sight of the value of putting great literature into the hands of children. I think that’s what keeps us going and gives us the drive to be successful.”

Written By

Kate Watson is the theatre reviewer for The Coast, a freelance writer, and coordinator of the Hackmatack Children’s Choice Book Award. She has a keen interest in municipal politics, community-building and twitter. Follow her @DartmouthKate.

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