British Columbia

Vancouver's oldest independent bookstore struggles to weather pandemic losses

The People’s Co-op Bookstore, which opened in 1945, has launched a fundraising campaign to help it survive losses from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The People’s Co-op Bookstore is seeking $75,000 in donations to pay rent and stay afloat

The People's Co-op Bookstore was established by left-wing progressives in 1945. (People's Co-op Bookstore/Facebook)

One of Canada's oldest independent bookstores, which opened in 1945, has launched a fundraising campaign to help it survive losses from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The People's Co-op Bookstore is seeking $75,000 in donations to be able to pay for next month's rent and cover operating costs for the coming months after being forced to shut down completely from mid-March until late April.

Long-time co-op member Rolf Maurer says apart from a few online orders, book sales dried up for weeks.

"Obviously that's a catastrophic situation for a small business whether you're a co-op or anything else."

The store, located on Commercial Drive in East Vancouver, was forced to lay off one staff member and Maurer says they haven't been able to pay the full rent amount for the months of April and May.

The People's Co-op Bookstore on Commmercial Drive in Vancouver sells new and used books that cover a range of social justice issues including climate change, race relations and feminism. (People's Co-op Bookstore/Facebook)

Established by a group of left-wing progressives, the People's Co-op Bookstore was created as a community space for people who felt marginalized during the Cold War. Maurer has been a member since the 1980s.

"It was one of the few progressive bookstores out in town and it just felt like something that was worth supporting," he said. "There was a perspective that was just not available in Western bookstores that they provided."

As of May 29, an online fundraising campaign for the store had raised over $15,000. Maurer says the money raised will also go toward improving the store's book collection and giving the shop some necessary upgrades.

Independent bookstores feel pandemic pinch

Across the city, Kestrel Books on West 4th Avenue is coping with a 50 per cent drop in sales due to COVID-19.

Owner Ron Fryar still isn't comfortable opening up the store to customers and is only filling online and phone orders.

"I've had a lot of my customers inquiring as to when I'm going to open up," he said. "I want to make sure that when I do it's safe for myself, my staff, and the customers."

Fryar says physically distancing is difficult in the small shop, especially with customers browsing.

"Having even one or two people come in and spend an hour or more in the store, it's not like somebody walks into a drugstore and buys Aspirin and leaves."

The People's Co-op Bookstore reopened in late April with new protocols limiting the number of customers in an effort to meet physical distancing guidelines, something Maurer says isn't difficult to enforce.

"I think in bookstores there is already a kind of culture of not wanting to be too close to the other browser anyway."

The biggest challenge, he says, has been trying to curb customers' tendency to pick up books while they browse.

Maurer says if the co-op is forced to shut down, the community will lose far more than just a place to buy progressive books.

"It's a business, but it's a business that at the end of the day it's controlled by the people who are using that business, who use the bookstore."

"There's not another bookstore in Canada like it."

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