Bookworms support Hamilton's independent bookstores during pandemic

More Hamilton readers are immersing themselves in the pages of a book from an independent book store, and shop owners are overwhelmed by the community support. 

Customers made it their 'mission' to shop local, owners say

Janet Hoy and Tim Hanna run The City and The City Books at 181 Ottawa Street, Hamilton. Taken before the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Janet Hoy)

More Hamilton readers are immersing themselves in the pages of a book from an independent book store, and shop owners are overwhelmed by the community support. 

Dave Kuruc of King W. Books said it's been a tough year "ducking and diving" amid changing rules of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"We've never worked harder," he said over the phone, before dashing off to help another bookworm who had dropped by for curbside pickup. 

"Everything we're doing just requires so much energy and time. But at the same time, we're still here and we've had a lot of great community support right across the city." 

Conversations about shopping local during the holidays, Kuruc said, had people making it their "mission" to keep up the support. 

"It was amazing actually to hear from folks who are parents and grandparents, who are telling us that their kids were telling them to shop local this year," he said. "I thought that was a really fascinating thing to get." 

Surrounded by small shops on Ottawa Street, Janet Hoy and Tim Hanna from The City and The City Books also say they've seen a strong current of shoppers since November. 

"We've had such an overwhelming response from the community. They've all been fantastic," Hoy said. "We get lots of people coming in saying, 'I just can't shop Amazon this year and I want to support local.'"

The store had to implement a cut off day ahead of ordering for Christmas. Publishers were feeling the pressure, Hoy said, and delivery employees were overworked. 

But people were understanding if something couldn't come in on time, and Hoy said she even crafted backup plans with customers. 

"You do get a personal touch. We're not an algorithm," she said. "We're able to ask questions...you're able to talk to them, have a conversation."

Hoy said independent bookstores make people feel "like you belong to something." (Submitted by Janet Hoy)

"I think people are just thinking more consciously. They've had a bit more time to think since the pandemic and realizing that there are other choices out there than just the easy look it up and order." 

Non-fiction overtook fiction as a bestseller at her store, with top desired reads being Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall, The Skin We're In by Desmond Cole, and books about climate change. 

Books by Indigenous authors were also bestsellers, like In my Own Moccassins: A Memoir of Resilience by Helen Knott. Hoy said she couldn't keep books by Jesse Thistle from flying off the shelves.

Cheryl Kaufman and her assistant Oliver run used bookstore Pickwick Books, which has stood at the corner of Mill and Dundas in Waterdown since 1995. This was photo was taken before the pandemic. (Pickwick Books)

Cheryl Kaufman, owner of used bookstore Pickwick Books in Waterdown, says she keeps seeing new faces when her doors are open. 

"I'm getting a lot of new customers in. People that I guess never read before or hadn't been reading as much are now reading again," she said.

Cookbooks and self-help books have increased in sales, as well as those on sustainability, Kaufman said. 

But her personal reason for reading is to escape. "You can always travel in a book," she said, noting that fantasy and historical fiction sales are also up. 

Kaufman launched a website this year to sell "book boxes." Readers say their reading preferences, and she specifically selects books, and slips in a new genre and a Canadian author. She's seen support from those as far as British Columbia. 

An ode to community

Local shops, Kaufman said, are what helps keep a community "vibrant."

"You don't want to see your community become all boarded up," she said. "You realize now talking to people that your neighbours own a small business. And you don't want to see them struggling." 

That sense of togetherness, said all the owners, is what independent bookstores bring to the table. 

Hoy said it gives people the idea that "you belong to something."

Kuruc said that stores reflect the neighbourhood, the people who live there, and what's going on the city.

"When you lose those things, you do lose a big chunk of the culture of a place, right? So it's not just about the commerce and the retail of it. There's much more going on than that...it's not just a store at the end of the day." 

"We're all just trying to put something interesting into people's worlds."


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