Big change underway for old-school shop in Saint John

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Big change underway for old-school shop in Saint John

Loyalist City Coins is one of uptown Saint John's hidden retail gems and boasts an expansive collection of knick-knacks, movies, music and books — from pulp fiction to 15th-century studies on the Bible.

It's been a hangout spot for vinyl collectors, comic fans and curious high school kids since 1979. 

"We live in the past with all of the stuff we sell," said Doreen Harris, who runs the shop with her husband, Ross Harris. "We don't like computers. I have a flip phone."

They don't sell anything online, meaning the best stuff is discovered on the shelves rather than cherry-picked by internet shoppers— something the Harrises say visitors from bigger cities often notice right away.

But change is part of life — and after 15 years in the same location, they're packing up their eclectic assortment and heading to a new location.

The Germain Street building they rent recently sold — and the couple say they're not part of the developer's plans.

The move, while unexpected, doesn't mean the Harrises are getting out of the business. 

"You never know what they're going to have," said  Ross Harris. "It could be a little old lady with a purse she's digging in. You don't know whether she's going to come out with a gold coin or a piece of dirt."

"Even the young kids, they buy records now and get interested in the old things."

City's most-photographed dogs

In addition to the eclectic goods, a major draw to Loyalist City Coins are shop dogs Honey and Bear, two chows often seen lolling lazily on the front counter.

"These ones are unbelievably friendly for chows," said Ross. "Even people who tease them, they bark at them, and that's all.'

The dogs, and their two previous chow dogs, have been coming to work with the Harisses every day since the store first opened.

"They've never been alone a day in their life," said Harris. "We couldn't get along without them. Everywhere we go, they go."

Thousands of cruise ship passengers have take pictures of the dogs as they stop in on the way to the nearby Trinity Anglican Church.

"People always ask if they're real," Doreen Harris said with a laugh.

 Antiques Roadshow-style surprises

Ross Harris has found a few staggering bargains over the years.

One collection purchased from the St. Stephen estate of a retired professor contained dozens of books dating back to the 16th and 17 centuries. One of them, a small 1502 edition of Dante's Inferno, sold to an Italian buyer for $13,000.

"Probably one of best items I have ever bought," he said.

More recently, he acquired a 1723 book about witchcraft that was so distinctive looking, "we had a lady come in that wanted to cleanse it of evil spirits," he said. "I said, 'Nah, let's let the new owner do that.' And I actually sold it quite quick."

One key to the business, he said, "is to never say no if something's in good shape and it's different. That's the sort of thing someone will buy."

In with the new

The move is now underway to their new store at 14 Charlotte St. — the sixth move in the 38 years the store has been around.

It's set to open the weekend of April 15, which is quickly turning into a mini-cluster of booksellers and vintage retailers, including Heroes Beacon, Dave Shoots, Bookseller and the Second Shop. 

But even though there will be more space, improved racks for the comic books and lots of parking nearby, the new spot will take some getting used to.

"I don't like change, and it's really upsetting to me to have to do something like this that's different," said Doreen Harris.

Ross Harris agreed.

"It'll end up being OK, but it's different," he said.

"Everything is a collectible if you wait long enough."