Retailer Profile: Bolen Books - a bookstore and more!

It’s been an incredible 44 years for the family owned and operated Bolen Books store.  This amazing bookstore is based in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia on the wonderful west coast of Canada. In fact, it’s on an island!  And let’s just say if you were on the S.S. Minnow you’d be glad that your “three hour tour” gone wrong landed you in Victoria!  From the Schwartz Bay Ferry Terminal, you’re just a 43 minute drive to Hillside Mall, and from the cruise ship ports, it’s a quick 10 minutes. Either way, it’s worth the excursion whether you’re from Victoria or just visiting.

Map of Bolen Books location relative to Swartz Bay Ferry and Ogden Point Terminal.

Bolen Books is in a great location at Hillside Shopping Centre, which is a very family friendly residential area.  It’s also surrounded by the Camosun College Lansdown Campus, which serves 19,000 learners a year, and the University of Victoria, which serves nearly 22,000 students.  Between the young students and the retired readers, Victoria bookstores are thriving and VicNews surmised that it was due to education.  According to Statistics Canada, the national average for people with university degrees, certificates or diplomas at or above the bachelor level is 28.5%, while in Victoria, BC that number tops an impressive 42%! Perhaps that is why in this digital age, the city of Victoria still has dozens of successful independent and chain bookstores selling new and used books. And perhaps a matter of opinion, but in terms of gift giving, a book one can touch, turn, and smell, is much more personable than a characterless downloadable link.

Bolen Books storefront facing Hillside road that enters directly into their store from outside the mall (1 of 3 entrances).

You can enter the store directly from the parking lot facing Hillside Road without entering the actual mall or enter from two other locations inside the mall, one of which is by the food court (always a great choice for an entrance). But even with parking wrapping around the entire mall, it can be insane at Christmas time, so start shopping now - we already saw some Christmas goodies at Bolen Books!

A few Christmas cleaning cloths and Krumbs Kitchen spoons – great gift ideas!

For 25 years, Black Press Media has been publishing a “Best of the City” awards voted on by tens of thousands of residents for everything from shopping to sports and recreation.  In 2019, residents voted Bolen Books as the #1 Best Bookstore for New Books, an honour familiar to them in other years.

It wouldn't surprise us if Bolen Books' #1 win was attributed to their excellent customer service. There are 30+ happy helpers staffed at this independent bookstore and while each one will give you plenty of reading room, whenever you're ready, all of them are willing to help you find that perfect book, toy, board game, jigsaw puzzle, coffee mug, book light, book mark, kitchen gadget, greeting card, magazine, plushy, wrapping paper, calendar, reading glasses, journal or whatever you can’t imagine because they have something unique for everyone! Yes, indeed, Bolen Books is a bookstore, and more!

 Hmm… where do those footprints go from the front entrance till? You’ll have to visit to find out!

The place is always full of life with people wandering the various sections of books, magazines, games and gifts – and you can’t miss their huge jigsaw puzzle wall stocked with lots of great brands, including Cobble Hill!

This impressive puzzle wall is full of high quality brands!

Between this impressive wall and the rows of bookshelves, you’ll find many display tables full of games, puzzles, and other goodies (many from our corporate company, Outset Media).  You could spend hours in these sections alone and you wouldn’t even be a third of the way through the store. The games on the table are nicely organized by theme like Family, Classic, and Adults, so you can easily find something for everyone - like the popular Qwirkle from MindWare Games and our favourite party game, Pickles to Penguins!

 Tables full of popular games like Scattergories and Pickles to Penguins! Think game night and gift ideas!

This huge store is sprinkled with seating areas throughout so you can sit while you wait for others to finish perusing the aisles or relax before you take your second tour of this amazing store!

Seating areas in cozy nooks throughout the store.

If you’re looking to take something entertaining home, they sell a lot of games and they even have game demos that give you hands on experience before buying. If you’re craving a new book, be sure to look for their "Staff Pick” stickers, these are always a great choice!  If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed with all the options, you may want to consider buying one of their “hot items”, the NeeDoh stress ball.  It’s known as the groovy glob of gratifying goo that always springs back to its original shape, even after being squeezed and smooshed - and it’s available in different colours and styles!

 1. Purchased a couple of cute gifts for a birthday.  2. NeeDoh display at mall entrance area.

The front counters are always stocked with fun trinkets and impulse items that make for great gifts.  Another Bolen Book’s hot item, since 2014, is Jude’s Miracle Cloth – a microfiber cleaning cloth that strategically lifts and traps dirt and moisture.  It makes for no hassle, streak free, spot free, and lint free cleaning without chemicals. And apparently, the University of California-Davis Hospital determined that conventional cleaning materials only reduce bacteria by 30%, whereas microfiber could reduce the number of bacteria by 99%. No wonder it’s so popular!

Nee Doh and Jude’s Miracle Cloth are two HOT items at Bolen Books (food court entrance shown).

If you’re shopping here to find a gift for someone special and you just can’t decide, be assured that you can purchase a gift certificate in any denomination.  And if you’re a frequent shopper at Bolen Books, then you may be interested to learn that they have a physical lifetime discount card available for $50 that will save you 10% off every purchase! These have been sold in limited quantities over the years – and now you know!  Just visit a friendly staff member at one of the three tills located at each entrance of the store.

Tons of gift wrap, gift bags and greeting cards for all occasions.
Bolen Books is fortunate in that it compares in size to large chain bookstores, while being independently owned, so they have that freedom and roominess to hold lots of free events for the community.  They also rent out to folks who need a space to host their own events for workshops or meetings.  We can only imagine how stimulating, creative, and inspiring it would be to host a meeting in this place! It’s incredible the number of diverse guests who have graced this store including Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, comedy legend John Cleese, environmental activist David Suzuki, award winning author Ami McKay, Geddy Lee of RUSH, and hundreds more! Be sure to check out their events page so you don’t miss a beat!

Chris Hatfield signing copies of his debut book in 2013. (Photo: Bolen Books website)

In 2018, Bolen Books hosted their first jigsaw puzzle competition in the mall with prizes.  The event was a huge success and Bolen Books will continue holding this event at least once a year.  Winning teams get their team name engraved on the very sentimental family named trophy, “The Piotta”.  If you’re local, keep an eye out for their bulletin board announcing the competition and other great events!

Cobble Hill Puzzle Company had the honour of being the first puzzle brand to kick-off this local event!

One of Bolen Books’ favourite mantras is, “There is something for everyone in our store, but if we don’t have the thing you’re looking for, we can order it!” And from first-hand knowledge, we can tell you that it’s quick, easy, and effortless. This is a place where people care about helping you find what you need whether it’s tangible or an experience.  They’ve already been honoured with the award of “Best Bookstore for New Books”, but if they were ever awarded another title from the city, they’d love it to be for “Best Community Bookstore”.

If you’ve been receiving excellent customer service at Bolen Books since you were a child, please be sure and tell a staff member to pass that message on to the owner, Samantha Bolen or her daughter Madeline, who helps run the store, as this is the best compliment a customer can give them.

Madeline (daughter) and Samantha Bolen (owner).

We’re certain it will put a smile on their face and yours! Thanks for shopping local!

Does Cobble Hill Include Reference Posters?

For those who like immediate answers, yes, we include posters.  We encourage you to read on for the details and the exceptions...

THE BOX DESIGN: Cobble Hill was established in 2005 with a nostalgic look packaged in sturdy recyclable material so your puzzle could withstand being traded with friends or reshuffled on your stash shelf.  The box design comprised of a light beige colour that framed the image on the front of the box.  Each piece count offering was colour coded in various tints of either green, blue, or rust. We used tints of green for 1000 piece, blue for 500 piece, and rust for Easy Handling 275 piece.  So what about the poster?
Green = 1000 piece, Blue = 500 piece, Rust = Easy Handling 275 piece

THE PROBLEM: Well, for 13 years, there was no reference poster. Puzzlers simply used the front of the box as their only reference guide. For the most part, this was a non-issue.  And we know some feel like looking at the image is "cheating", so this post is probably irrelevant if you're in that camp. However, for those who do use the image, as the years passed more of these puzzlers were speaking up about the logo on the front of our box.  It blocked a small portion of the image in the lower right hand corner. On the Easy Handling 275 piece puzzles, this was less of a big deal because the logo would only hide a few large pieces. However, on a 1000 piece puzzle, there could be several hidden pieces due to the logo placement.
Eeks! Who is hiding behind our logo?
THE SOLUTION: So, after taking surveys and listening to our incoming comments, we believed adding a poster would be beneficial to many puzzlers out there. In 2018, we started including 9" x 12.45" (22.9cm x 31.6cm) linen print posters. How do you know if you get a poster or not? It will always say "Poster Included" below the logo if it's supposed to include one. The quality of the reference poster matches the texture of the box and the puzzle pieces.  We're pleased to report that the response has since been extremely positive! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, it makes a difference!! But, yes, the logo still blocks a portion of the image on the box (sorry)!

"Poster Included" is always noted below our logo. If you don't see those words, there's no poster.
THE TRANSITION PERIOD. This does bring us to the issue now of having two different types of Cobble Hill puzzles on the store shelves, and possibly for a few years. Retailers will still have the older "classic" box on their shelves as they sell through their current inventory - they may even have them mixed in with the new box design. When we made the switch to the new design, there was still stock in our warehouse for the classic box, so we continued to sell it to retailers who weren't ready to make all the Item Number or Mfg Part Number changes in their POS system - it's quite a bit of work for hundreds of SKUs!  So, it could be a while before certain retailers stop selling the old design.  So, if a poster is important to you, be sure the box says "Poster Included". It's a little trickier when you're ordering online.  Some hopefully helpful hints, look for the "Item Code" or "Mfr Part Number" or "Mfg Part Number" and it should start with an "8", not a "5". If it starts with a "5", then it is likely from our classic box.

Last point, please don't be fooled by our special boxes that do NOT have the classic beige frame around the image. We have designed some specialty puzzles with a different look, like those from the seven colour puzzles in the Rainbow Collection.  But, again, if you do not see "Poster Included" you will not see a poster inside the box.

So, we hope that answers the question for those who wonder why their puzzle did not come with a poster. In many cases, the retailer will also charge less for the classic box if they are stocking the new design as well. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to drop us a line!

Top 5 Reasons to Choose Cobble Hill Puzzles

Avid puzzlers are aware that there are many, many puzzle brands from countries all over the world. Do you have a guess as to how many puzzle brands exist? Give it a guess and read on...

There are many brands that may sound familiar to you like White Mountain Puzzles, Ravensburger, SunsOut, Springbok, Schmidt, Jumbo, Heye, Falcon, Eurographics, Eeboo, Educa, Dowdle, D-Toys, Clementoni, Ceaco, Buffalo Games, Bits and Pieces..whew...and the list goes on... but how long does this already loooong list go? Did you guess?  Well, based on the turnout from the annual World Puzzle Days puzzle competition, we know that there are at least 372 different manufacturers represented in this contest! That's a lot of puzzle brands to choose from (and we guarantee you that there are still more than that). So thank you for indulging us in our Top 5 reasons why we think you should at least consider Cobble Hill as your go to puzzle brand.

What makes Cobble Hill puzzles a great choice?

Quirky pieces. A lot of great puzzle companies use the traditional ribbon cut puzzle pattern;these are squarish puzzle pieces that line up in straight rows and columns. Random Cut puzzles are very different. There are no predictable patterns.  No tidy grid. We take our puzzle people on an adventure with quirky random shaped puzzle pieces. Our pieces have irregular bodies and beautiful curves, creating an enjoyable and uniquely different pattern that can be admired after it's assembled. We like to think that our pieces represent the diversity of people on the planet and we welcome you into our world.

Adventure with Cobble Hill's quirky random cut puzzle piece shapes (1000pc and Family Pieces 350 see here)
Textured paper. Puzzles are a very tactile and sensory experience. Our textured linen print paper not only replicates an artist's canvas, it provides a practical benefit.  The textured linen print paper reduces glare from artificial lights unlike a glossy or flat finish. With less glare, it is easier to see the details on each puzzle piece that you're searching to put in place. We even chose to wrap the puzzle box in linen paper, as well as the reference poster that we started including with out puzzles after our 2018 box redesign.  We believe you'll enjoy the elegant, cloth-like finish textured feel of our puzzle pieces between your fingers.

Textured linen print paper reduces glare from artificial lights and feels luxurious.

Truly Original Photos. The Cobble Hill Creations team designs Truly Original Photo (TOP) puzzles in-house making them unique to our brand.  While we do license enchanting scenic and wildlife images, we strive to offer you a different puzzle experience with our collages.  It's no coincidence that many of our TOP puzzles are also our top sellers! Our 2010 Teacups puzzle and 2012 Doughnuts puzzle have been best sellers since we first introduced them into our line up.  One of our most successful "experiments" was created in collaboration with artist Shelley Davies in a studio over four months. The project is known as the Rainbow Collection.  There are seven 1000 piece puzzles that can be enjoyed on their own, but when all seven are assembled, they seamlessly align to create a 7000 piece 15.5 foot rainbow! All our photography is expertly captured by JoAnn Richards of Works Photography.

As challenging as this was, it's a lot easier than our animal photo shoots! Thanks JoAnn for putting up with us.

Puzzle board. Our Creative Team spends countless hours meeting with licensing agents and artists to find those desirable images that evoke emotion and connect with the puzzler. So naturally, we want to print those lovely images on a thick high quality puzzle board to ensure the puzzle pieces feel sturdy when your fingers sift through the puzzle pieces and get snapped into place. The European blue board quality has a blue ribbon thickness that outlasts the flimsy and squishy puzzle pieces from an unequal brand. Knowing that many of our puzzlers collect our puzzles to be enjoyed again and again, we wanted to make sure that our puzzles, and our box, could stand the test of time and look good on your shelf.

Quality blue board that is thick and durable so you can share your puzzles with all your friends

Earth friendly. And last, but not least, from the box packaging to the biodegradable bag, all materials are recyclable and environmentally friendly making you feel good about choosing our puzzles.

Cobble Hill puzzles are recyclable from the box to the shrink wrap plastic.
The cherry on top is our customer service. Every reputable puzzle company has a program for taking care of puzzlers who have an issue. Sometimes a puzzle piece goes missing because of a hungry dog or maybe it was never in the bag.  Regardless, we want to take care of you so that you can fully enjoy your puzzle and feel confident that Cobble Hill cares.

Our Customer Care Team is confident that any puzzler with an issue will be 100% satisfied with our service, which is reflected in our social media testimonials.  Like many puzzle companies, we don't own the factory where the puzzles are manufactured, so you are a part of our quality control team.  And while we wish that there were never any disappointments, the factory employees are human. We can't always control what happens at the factory, but we can control how we respond to you.   We're thankful for our puzzlers who let us know how we're doing - for better or worse - we're in this with you!

If you enjoyed one of our puzzles, please find the puzzle image on our website and write a review so others can enjoy it too! Thank you!

We look forward to satisfying your next Cobble Hill craving!

Random Cut vs Ribbon Cut

Wackadoo! Quirky! Diabolic! Peculiar! Off the wall! Bizarre! Wacky... and the list goes on.

These are just a few of the adjectives that we have heard to describe Cobble Hill puzzle piece shapes. We like to think of our Random Cut puzzle pieces as pleasingly adventurous!

So what are Random Cut puzzle pieces?  These are puzzle piece shapes that do not look alike.  Pieces can be short and fat, long and skinny, curved, square, small or big.  When assembled, they do not conform to standard grids creating neat little rows and columns. Nope. Random Cut puzzle pieces take you on an exciting adventure!

Random Cut pieces can curve and move in diagonal directions, there's no uniformity or pattern (More Ice Cream)
Over the years, we have found it interesting that there are two complete opposite schools of thought when it comes to Random Cut puzzles.  Some puzzlers find our Random Cut puzzle pieces shapes to be more challenging, while others find that it makes puzzling simpler.  Huh?  We haven't scientifically figured out what makes one seek out Random Cut puzzles, while others are repulsed by them. We do have some theories that we'll test out in another blog!

Ribbon Cut puzzles create a consistently predictable pattern. Each piece has a uniform squared off shape and the pieces line up in a strip, creating an even grid pattern.  These puzzles are quite common in the jigsaw world and popular with European brands like Ravensburger, Clementoni, and Heye. Traditional is a good adjective for these puzzles, and there is nothing wrong with traditions.

Ribbon cut puzzles line up in straight grids and rows.
Everyone has their own way of assembling puzzles. Some like to start with the frame. Others refused to look at the image. And some prefer to sort every piece before beginning.

While we think the difference in puzzle piece shapes is clearly obvious - the reason why puzzlers gravitate towards one style more than the other - is not.

Cobble Hill Creations - Truly Original Puzzles

It's quite nice that there are a lot of communities on the world wide web communing about puzzles.  Have you ever seen a conversation like this one on social media?

Sam: "I just finished this "Ice Cream" 1000 piece puzzle from Cobble Hill! It was so much fun to do with all the neat piece shapes and colours. Highly recommended!"

Pat: "Oh, I have that one too, but it was from Ravensburger! It is a fun one."

Conversations like this are real. However, what puzzlers may not realize is that a lot of Cobble Hill puzzles are "Truly Original Photo" (T.O.P.) puzzles.  This means that they were created in-house by our design team and photographed with our local studio partner. So it is not possible to have completed the puzzle in another brand. That is what makes some of our puzzles incredibly unique!

(When you do see an image in several different brands, it's because the artist or licensing company licensed the work to various companies either at the same time or in different years - all depending on the negotiations for back to our T.O.P. puzzles)!

Our design team is daydreaming about inspiring puzzle themes as we speak...or as I write and you read. We're constantly processing feedback from puzzlers about themes they want to see for our collages and dreaming up the logistics of making them happen!

Let's look at our Ice Cream puzzle for an example. Our Creative Art Director, Allegra Vernon, learned how to make an ice cream dough.  Why a dough? Because if we tried to use real ice cream, it would melt at the photoshoot under the hot lights before we could even finish!  So, on photoshoot day, a few of us rolled up our sleeves at the studio and scooped dough making sure to create that desirable rippling affect.  

Allegra Vernon, Creative Art Director and dough maker - far left. Linda, me, the blogger. Photographer, JoAnne, far right.

                                           The strawberry ice cream dough and for stability sake, half-cut ice cream cones

                                          See the ice cream rim and ripples! Looks so real and delicious!

Testing the shot for composition and lighting

Checking the computer for the best images

With toppings!

The important part of the photoshoot was to get enough great images of the ice cream before adding toppings. This way, we had options to create a puzzle with or without toppings. We chose to do both, in different piece counts! Voila!

Family Pieces 350 puzzle by Cobble Hill Creations
Family Pieces 350, with toppings
Ice Cream 1000 piece puzzle by Cobble Hill Creations
1000 piece, wihthout toppings

Now that's how one satisfies a #CobbleHillCraving. Thanks for reading our post. If you would like to see more Truly Original Photo puzzles, please check our website under Shop By Artist, "Cobble Hill Creations". Puzzle on!

Puzzle Bloggers

There are many different bloggers out there talking about everything from chicken noodle soup to the latest tech gadget. But, there are also bloggers who focus on one main theme - like jigsaw puzzle bloggers.  They may have different reasons for why they do what they do, but they all love jigsaw puzzles, so they write about it. We're going to mention a few Cobble Hill favourites that we enjoy and why we recommend them.
Jigsaw Puzzle Hobby.  We enjoy this puzzle blog because the person who runs it, Linda Richard, is so rooted in the puzzle community and really has a passion for puzzles. But, she doesn't just enjoy puzzles for herself, she actually wants to connect puzzlers together so that they can all enjoy the hobby together. Her website is full of reviews for various brands with a lot of different themed puzzle images. You can get great honest reviews from her with wonderful photos of her process for assembling the puzzles. Not only does she review them, but as an enthusiast and entrepreneur, she has created a Puzzle Hobby Tracker that allows puzzlers to keep track of the brand, how they rated the puzzle, the picture of it, how many pieces, notes and more!  It's available on her website for sale as a download, so you can start keeping track of your memories right away!  Beyond reviews of puzzles, she'll give you information on accessories and things like how to preserve a puzzle with or without glue, boards, lighting, etc.. You can really gain a lot of knowledge from reading through all her links.  But, we also recommend joining her Jigsaw Puzzle Hobby group on Facebook. She'll often host fun closed group events, so if you join the main Facebook page, you'll stay up to date on other upcoming events that you can join for more fun with other puzzlers.  Linda is definitely an All-Star puzzler, so we hope you enjoy her website and Facebook groups.
Recommended if you are looking to get rooted into a puzzle community and learn more about puzzles.
Jigsaw Junkies. This is probably one of the first puzzle blogs that we followed years ago. Jane does a great job of giving reviews for a lot of different puzzle brands and she'll point you to Puzzle Warehouse to purchase puzzles that you might enjoy after reading her review, so you're never lost on where to find the puzzle.  You'll also find puzzle deals, like Buy 2 Get 1 Free, which is always a great perk for a puzzle addict!  If you're the kind of person who enjoys lists, you'll appreciate her many Top Ten lists that may be by brand of puzzle or by season.  However, one of our favourite features about her website is the Brand Comparison chart and write-ups. She breaks down the puzzle brand into various scores for Box, Piece Thickness, Piect Fit, Image Variety, etc.. You can see a summary sheet as well as more details for each brand. The ratings include puzzles from Europe and North America, as well as a few from Asia. She'll also post about new puzzles that a company releases for the year, so if you're on the hunt for something you haven't yet seen, check those posts.
Recommended if you are looking for puzzle deals and an overview of puzzle brands.
My Jigsaw Journal. If you love puzzles or are just starting out in this "life in pieces", you'll love reading Stacey's posts. Her blog's headliner is, "A jigsaw puzzle blog for passionate puzzlers written by a puzzle geek". We like her blog because it's a no fuss website with down and dirty information about puzzles that she assembles each month. The top of her website lists completed puzzles for the year, if you want to get a snapshot of what she has done for the month. However, if you want more in depth information for puzzles, then be sure to check out her Archived Posts for more details. She does a great job of giving you the pleasantries, but she may also throw out some puzzler vocabulary that you have never heard of like, "ballerinas" (2 prong, 2 holes). One of her amazing feats is the completion of Ravensburger's 10 scene Disney puzzle with over 40,000 pieces! Yikes! And in 2018, she has already completed over 88,000 pieces and over 200 puzzles, which does not include the massive Disney puzzle. She's an accomplished puzzler and we think you'll enjoy her down to earth writing style.
Recommended if you are looking for a good read and variety of images.