the story of otis & clementine’s

I am Ellen Helmke, the owner / operator of otis & clementine’s books & coffee.  
What does the name mean? When I was pregnant with my two children in 2002 ad 2004, my husband Gregg and I came up with ‘working titles’ for our as yet unknown children. We started calling the first baby otis just for fun. She turned out to be a beautiful baby girl, and we named her Ingrid Louisa. Our second time around, I couldn’t get enough oranges, so we called the unborn baby clementine. He turned out to be a bouncing baby boy, now Adam Jameson (middle-named after his dad’s favourite whiskey). 

When we decided to open the bookshop, my husband suggested the name otis & clementine’s.


I am originally from Chicago, but met my Nova Scotian there in 1994. We married in 1996 and in 1998 we moved to Nova Scotia. Those Maritimers always want to come home, eh? Gregg was working in Chicago in a small regional brewery after graduating from McGill with an Education degree, and finding there were no teaching jobs available. Lucky me! Both of us have always loved used book stores and would spend hours in them wherever we went.

We have lived in HRM since 1998, and in Stillwater Lake since 2003.

I am a big fan of non-fiction and mysteries. I don’t like books that make me cry, so I often don’t read the Globe & Mail Bestsellers. But this doesn’t make me illiterate: I received my BA in Spanish and Communication from the University of Colorado (getting to spend my 3rd year university in Madrid!). I then got my MSc. in Organization Development from Loyola University Chicago.

I spent 10+ years in Human Resources at Marriott International and Grant Thornton LLP, before moving on to 4 years as Director of Fundraising at Laing House and Adsum for Women & Children. I was a very active member of the Junior League of Halifax for seven years, and am still a sustaining member of this amazing organization.

In 2011, a friend pointed out that Books Galore was closing, and I felt it was the universe giving me a sign. Did I have retail experience? no. Did I have a business / commerce degree? no. Did I have a passion for creating a great resource for the community, reducing my carbon footprint by working in my community, and keeping books in circulation and out of landfills? YES!

And so with a GREAT leap of faith on Gregg’s part, otis & clementine’s was born: my third baby. I am happy to respond to feedback by the community and continue to offer new and different activities such as Spanish classes, book clubs, coffeehouses/open mike nights, women’s networking nights and stitch & bitch nights. Most of these happen on Thursday evenings.


You will notice that my children walk here after school from Tantallon Elementary. In the fall of 2017 Ingrid started high school at SJA. She is well-trained on the cash register, and can even make you a latte or an Americano. I also have a lovely part-time assistant, Diana, who is here when I am not.

We enjoy chatting with our regular and new customers, and I learn so much every day. I love what I do. Thanks for visiting!

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