British Columbia

Mobile bookstore owners put down roots, open storefront shop in East Vancouver

Iron Dog Books just got bigger — a lot bigger. Owners Hilary and Cliff Atleo have expanded their business, which started as a mobile book truck, to include a storefront in the heart of Vancouver’s Hastings Sunrise neighbourhood.

'I really think we're building something important that contributes to the community,' says owner

Hilary Atleo, owner of Iron Dog Books, is pictured on the first day her store opened in Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

At first glance, the brick-red Iron Dog panel truck could be mistaken for a food truck. But this popular fixture at farmers' markets and festivals is actually a mobile bookstore, and it's been feeding hungry minds for the past two years. 

But Iron Dog Books just got bigger — a lot bigger. Owners Hilary and Cliff Atleo have expanded their business to include a 1,060 square foot storefront in the heart of Vancouver's Hastings Sunrise neighbourhood. 

It's a bold decision when so many small businesses are struggling to survive. And it came about in part because of barriers to operating a mobile business in B.C.

"There are some pretty significant limits put on us to operate in Metro Vancouver," said Hilary Atleo.

The couple was required to operate their truck under special events licences, which meant they were restricted to markets, festivals and other special events. And they came with some pretty high fees.

The new Iron Dog store has about 12 times the space of the truck, and should have room for about 15 000 books. Hilary Atleo is pictured in front of the truck. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

At some markets, they pay the equivalent of what food trucks pay. At others, they're given a different rate because they sell merchandise despite the fact their truck is a key component in entertainment for festival and market/attendees.

These hurdles prompted the pair to add a storefront.

"We want to be more available to serve our customers, and we want to be able to contribute in a meaningful way to our community." 

A customer shops at Iron Dog Books on the first day of the store opening. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The new Iron Dog store has about 12 times the area as the truck. Hilary Atleo anticipates having space for about 15,000 books.

She said she believes the store will have an impact. 

"I really love my job and I really love helping my customers and I really think we're building something important that contributes to the community around us."

Atleo is concerned that the way Vancouver is redeveloping its streets is leading to homogeneous retail neighbourhoods — areas that are indistinguishable from one another, or from another city, because they are filled with franchises or corporate stores. 

The Hastings Sunrise neighbourhood, with its small, independently owned businesses, seemed like a perfect fit for Iron Dog Books.

The shop is located in the Hastings Sunrise neighbourhood in Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"I want our city to reflect our regional specificity, to have a unique character, and to be a viable home to the type of locally owned businesses that anchor a neighbourhood," she said.

And it's not the end of the beloved bookmobile.

"We're actually going to keep operating the book truck exactly the way it's been going," Atleo said.

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