Soaring sales at Vancouver's independent bookstores is one of the pandemic's good-news stories
Books offer refuge after hours in front of screens, one owner says
When the pandemic got underway last year, Pulp Fiction bookstore owner Chris Brayshaw braced for the worst.
But it turned out that 2020 quickly became the Vancouver store's best year in its 21 years of business.
"Our sales went really, really sharply up," Brayshaw said.
"We pivoted from thinking that everybody would be staying at home to adding staff, adding an additional location and keeping up with demand."
'Quiet, private space'
Brayshaw is one of several independent bookstore owners in Vancouver who say the pandemic has driven a rush of sales.
Customers tell him that books offer a refuge from the screens they're bombarded with all day long, he said.
"A lot of customers are saying that being able to relax with a book that's not trying to disrupt your attention, not trying to sell you additional things, is just a kind of quiet, private space," Brayshaw said.
Aaaaand we're HIRING (a thread). Despite plague, PFBs 1, 2, 3 & 3.5 have never been busier, and we're looking to add 1, maybe 2, staff to help keep the system running smoothly. These positions do NOT require previous bookstore experience, are 30-40 hrs/wk, & earn $20/hr.—@pfbvan
Ian Gill says people thought he was crazy to open a bookstore with his partner during a pandemic.
But the Granville Island store, Upstart & Crow — a bright, airy room with a carefully curated collection of titles — draws up to 50 customers each day, with 200 items sold on a good day.
Gill is still hoping he can soon expand to offer literary events.
"Those in-person, face-to-face things — we're really hoping we can do that in the next few months," he said. "That's kind of what we did this for in the first place."
Downtown clientele disappears
The story is a little different in downtown Vancouver, where business at The Paper Hound bookstore dried up at the start of the pandemic due to a dropoff in its regular clientele.
"We're used to having a lot of office workers, a lot of tourists, a lot students and a lot of academics down here," said co-owner Kim Koch.
"Those are exactly the populations that aren't down here right now."
Koch says business was down by 30 per cent at the worst of it, but has now rebounded to just five per cent below pre-pandemic sales.
Something that has helped her business, Koch says, has been offering book deliveries by bicycle, which she's been offering since 2013.
"At the height of it, we were all day long, every day, delivering books," she said. "People like getting books by bike. They like the idea of it."
- A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Upstart & Crow was seeing up to 200 customers a day. In fact, the store is seeing around 50 customers and selling around 200 items a day.Apr 12, 2021 9:20 AM PT
With files from Alex Migdal