Magic and 'a love affair' with the printed word at Regina's hidden bookstore
Owner of Regina's Spafford Books says there's a resurgence of interest in collecting books
This article was originally published January 6, 2019.
It's easy to walk past this store on Regina's Broad Street, never knowing what fantasy worlds lie inside. A discreet sign over a back door facing away from the street is the only indication that it's a bookstore.
But just a few steps inside and beyond the door, with a dog named Oxford bounding up to welcome a newcomer, it quickly becomes evident it's not your typical bookstore.
Inside, Spafford Books channels the famed Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company, with leather-bound and gilded books lying next to a stack of religious papers dating back to the 17th century, with art and antiques thrown in for good measure. The little details — a Remington typewriter or a rotary phone — evoke a nostalgia for a different time.
Oxford gets himself settled on a dog bed by the fireplace. It looks like it'd be an equally cozy spot to read.
"My father and I are both rabid collectors," Spafford Books owner Leah Spafford says of her store's eclectic collection of books, furniture and art. "So between the two of us, we had a lot of stuff and no place to put it."
It's not uncommon to hear newcomers exclaim with surprise that it's like a scene out of Harry Potter's Hogwarts School, she says.
She understands the magic allusion, only to her, it's visions of the Land of Oz that dance before her eyes when she thinks of her shop.
Spafford inherited her love of books and the bookstore itself from her father, with Spafford Books living on in what was once a Hudson's Bay store.
Her father began by selling all kinds of books, but over time the shop began to specialize in the antiquarian books and Prairie Canadiana that are now its hallmarks. An early adopter, he sold books over the internet in its early days, with his daughter now continuing to sell books all over the world.
As she walks past the shelves of history and literature, Spafford stops to stroke the spine of a book and sighs with delight.
These books are not just words, but tactile and sensory delights, with musty scents or delicate art protected by wax paper. While most everything in the shop is for sale, Spafford describes a few of the books as her babies, impossible to part with, like a rare 1930 edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
"Someone would have to offer me something that would make me fall over," she says, carefully turning the creamy white pages.
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For a dry spell of about six or seven years, Spafford says she felt the dread of the e-book and Amazon, and slackening sales, but she carried on undaunted.
"My dad's motto was always 'If you're not selling, you should be buying,'" she said, explaining that she ended up with an enormous stock in that time.
At some point, the dry spell was broken, with people reawakening to the allure of physical books, Spafford said.
"We're in a resurgence now of the books being interesting, and we're getting this whole new batch of clientele and collectors."
Chris Scott, co-owner of Centennial Books, agrees, saying that most customers buying books at her Regina store are under the age of 40.
Independent bookstores are run by people who know books, and who are ready to answer questions and delve into research to find a book or solve a mystery, according to Scott.
"And that's what makes a bookstore work."
As an owner, to be surrounded by the treasures of these leather bindings, crackling paper and word concoctions is simply magic, to hear Spafford tell it.
"It's a love affair and it just keeps getting better and better."