Book it: Hintonburg store owner sees travel guide sales spike as COVID restrictions ease

Brad Green
Brad Green, owner of World of Maps on Wellington Street West, says sales of travel guides, maps and flags are on the upswing as COVID restrictions ease. Photo by Julien Bernier

The way Brad Green sees it, the maps at his Hintonburg store are pointing the way to a travel resurgence.

When the pandemic struck roughly two years ago, Green’s shop, World of Maps on Wellington Street West, was forced to close its doors to customers. 

Fortunately, this did not completely shut down the business. Green had already transitioned some of his sales online and so was able to continue working through the lockdowns.

“We’ve had an online presence for many years – years before the pandemic – so the website is an important place to reach our customers that are all over the world,” he said.

Still, Green had to shift the types of merchandise he was selling.

“Of course, COVID meant no customers were travelling internationally,” he explained. “We had to completely redo the products that we offered in-store because no one was going to Mexico, or anywhere.”

Green says that while sales of travel books shrank, other fiction and non-fiction titles increased in popularity.

Foot traffic up 

“The bookstore became more of a general independent bookstore, which we are and remain,” he said. “This has become an important part. We’re like a neighbourhood bookstore – we have access to six million books in print. So not just maps, but puzzles and flags and different products.”

Travel within the province did not stop, Green added, with people going to provincial parks and looking for items such as topographical maps, boating maps and park guides.

Now that restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 have loosened, tourism is starting to take off. Green’s store has seen an increase in foot traffic, with customers planning trips to other parts of Canada and abroad.

“The books that no one was buying during the COVID lockdowns, well, today we’re selling guides to the south of France and to Ireland, Scotland and Portugal,” he said. 

Karen Taafe, manager product development, travel at CAA North and East Ontario, tells the same story.

“Trends we’re seeing right now include the all-inclusive (trips) down south because of the weather in Ottawa,” she said in a recent interview. “But further out than immediate March, Europe is actually really popular. We’re really a little surprised.”

Destinations being booked include France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland and Greece, she said.

Back at World of Maps, sales of flags have also been surging. Popular flags include the Canadian flag – especially since the Canadian men’s soccer team qualified for the World Cup – and the Ukrainian flag. 

“We’ve donated $2,500 to the Red Cross for the Ukraine. That came about because we’re selling these flags and then a customer said, ‘You should collect donations,’” Green said. “So we put a collection box there and so people were stuffing cash in there or paying with a credit card and we would put the cash in the box.”

One third of the $2,500 collected was from customers and the rest came from the store itself.