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Trident Café turns a new page

31 years after first opening its doors, Charlotte Ashley now holds the keys

3 min read
A woman smiles while standing in front of bookshelves.
caption Charlotte Ashley became the owner of Trident Café on Oct. 1.

There’s no book on how to run a bookstore.

For Charlotte Ashley, buying Trident Bookseller & Café was a major undertaking, but she’s loving it. Ashley took ownership on Oct. 1, and says that she inherited not only a bookstore, but its legacy.

According to Ashley, she immediately noticed the community that surrounds Trident. “People came down not even to buy things, just to introduce themselves because they’ve been coming for 40 years,” she said.

“They want it to stay the same, they want it to be everything they have loved about it,” said Ashley, who plans on giving her customers just that.

She wants to keep the Hollis Street institution as close as possible to what it has been for decades but isn’t afraid to add to what the café and bookstore has to offer.

Looking around the café, still full of book readers and coffee drinkers at 4:45 p.m. on a recent Monday, Ashley said that the café is now open until 9 p.m. rather than 5. Changing the hours will allow Trident to host night-time events such as book launches and writing workshops.

On Tuesday nights this November, for instance, the café becomes a meeting place for local writers participating in National Novel Writing Month, the goal of which is to complete a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

Roughly 8,000 books line the shelves of Trident, categorized by genre and alphabetized by author. While most of those books are used, Ashley has forged a new partnership with the King’s Co-op Bookstore that has helped her get new releases on her shelves.

Merging King’s relationship with publishers and Trident’s storefront provides a new place for downtown book buyers with a new spot to pick up new titles such as Pageboy by Elliot Page and The Maniac by Benjamin Labatut.

Before she took the reins at Trident, Ashley was no stranger to the world of books. In 2009 she won Canada’s national book-collecting award for her collection of the works of 19th century French author Alexandre Dumas.

Ashley also has a degree from the University of Toronto in book and media studies (which she says is better described as “book history”).

Her favourite living author is Nick Harkaway, son of famed author John le Carré. She spoke admiringly of his work, including his most recent novel Titanium Noir, as “way-out-there speculative weirdness.”

“He’s a f—–g genius. I can’t sing his praises enough. He should be so much better known than he is,” she added.

Ashley also spent 15 years working at the Bob Miller Book Room in Toronto. She describes the time she spent there as the greatest period of her life. Splitting her time between freelance writing and editing and working at the shop, she says she could have done it forever.

But the rise of online booksellers such as Amazon, she says, led to the closure of the more-than-four-decade-old Toronto store in 2019.

With the end of that chapter came the beginning of another. Ashley moved to the east coast to be closer to her family in 2021 and began working in the field of investor relations.

According to Ashley, the world of finance is “good for making money and terrible for the soul.” It was no place for a bookseller like her. So, when she got word that Trident was up for sale, she jumped at the opportunity.

Six weeks into the venture, Ashley said she sees a mix of long-time customers enjoying the shop they have loved for years and new, younger, customers who are taking advantage of the extended hours. “It’s working,” she says, “it’s only been a month and a half, knock on wood, maybe I can screw it up still,” she jokes.

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About the author

Ben Dornan

Ben Dornan is a student in the master of journalism program at King's. He loves writing.

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