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MCC Opens Used-Book Store, Café
Sam’s Place in Winnipeg, is a “meeting place with a heart.”

Sam’s Place, a unique, non-profit used-book store, café and performing arts venue, opened last week in a newly-renovated building in the Elmwood area of Winnipeg.

Sam's Place manager Tim Collins (left) with baker and chef, Jon McPhail.
Photo courtesy Joanie Peters.

The project, run mainly by volunteers, will raise funds for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). But Sam’s Place is much more than a fund-raising initiative, says Tim Collins, who manages the place.

 “We want Sam’s Place to be an inviting, warm and safe place,” he explained. “We want this to be a destination, a meeting place for people—a meeting place with a heart.”

Sam is actually a life-size wood carving of a Komodo dragon—the world’s largest lizard—that sits prominently in the building as a sort of mascot. It may not be alive but it helps customers with menu selections and book selections through “Sam’s Picks,” says Collins.

Sam the dragon is one of the many things that set Sam’s Place apart from other business ventures, said Collins, whose company is helping MCC develop and manage the project.

Thousands of used books line the shelves on the main floor. Equipment has been purchased to remove the spine of books making it possible to recycle books that cannot be sold.

Jon McPhail, an experienced baker and chef, is providing the food services in a 60-seat restaurant that serves locally-grown food and fair trade products.

A stage and sound system gives emerging artists a venue for public performances and a place to sell their CDs, self-published books and art. Comfortable couches create an inviting atmosphere for people to listen to entertainment, visit or browse through books.

The building, which once housed a printing business, was renovated with the help of countless volunteers and the generosity of Winnipeg’s business community, explained Collins. Plans are underway to renovate the second floor to create space for community programs, music lessons and literacy classes.

The volunteers who renovated the building included men living in Forward House, a halfway house for men with criminal records.

“Volunteers from Forward House literally donated thousands of hours of work,” said Collins. “They have bought into the vision that this is a safe, warm inviting place for everyone. I’m hoping they will be back to listen to the entertainment, take part in the classes and perform.”

Collins said he understands the stigma these men face because he also has a criminal record. In the 1990s, Collins worked for the city and helped bring the 1999 Pam Am Games to Winnipeg, coordinate a royal visit and organize other special events.

“I had a huge fall from grace,” said Collins. “I lost my moral compass.”

He was involved with laundering drug money for organized crime and held responsible for money that his business partner had stolen. To repay this debt, Collins committed a number of crimes and convicted of several bank robberies.

During his time in prison, Collins developed a close relationship with the late Addison Klassen, a member of MCC Manitoba’s prison visitation and community integration program, Open Circle.

 “Addison became my friend,” said Collins. “Addison never talked to me about religion but he lived his faith to an amazing extent. He showed me that greed and arrogance are not as powerful as faith and trying to help people.”

Through this friendship and MCC’s Open Circle program Collins said he learned that the “Christian ethic revolves around forgiveness, redemption and second chances.” He also learned that as a Christian organization “MCC lives up to its faith.”

“I believe in second chances not only for myself but for everyone,” he said. “If you have a sincere desire to live a good life you should be given the opportunity to do that. Everyone deserves a chance for redemption.”

Brad Reimer of MCC Manitoba serves on the committee that is opening the used bookstore and café. Reimer said MCC had invited Collins to serve as a member of the advisory committee and that Collins' company was the successful applicant to manage the project. Signing authority and expense approvals are still the committee's responsibility.

Originally published on the Mennonite Central Committee website, March 24, 2009.




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