The return of the independent bookstore

I have been inordinately excited about the recent opening of a new independent bookstore in Peterborough, the nearest large commercial centre to the village of Millbrook where I live. It is called Take Cover Books, on Hunter Street in East City, and is owned and operated by two brothers, Sean and Andrew, who love books. 

Take Cover is the newest (and currently only) local bookstore to surface since Chapters/Indigo and then Amazon gave the one-two punch to almost every smaller city’s independents across the country. I have been making books long enough to remember the heyday of Canadian publishing (especially children's book publishing) when smaller publishers, librarians and independent booksellers worked together to bring Canadian books to Canadians. Beginning in the 70’s and continuing to flourish through to the early 2000’s, it was inspired by a national movement to support and encourage Canadian content in our schools, libraries and bookstores after decades of domination by American and British publishing.  There were two huge conventions held in Toronto, the Canadian Bookseller’s Association (CBA) and the OLA (Ontario Library Association) conferences where publishers, booksellers and librarians came together from Ontario and across the country to participate and see the year’s new crop of published books. In conjunction with this there were a number of national book conferences (Serendipity in Vancouver and Word Fest in Calgary, just to name two) that occurred regularly to promote Canadian literature. It was all driven by a committed group of book enthusiasts intent on supporting Canadian content, and at the very heart of it all was the independent bookseller.

Almost all of that is gone now or is only a shadow of what it was. That is partly because of new technology, new draws on how people choose to spend their money other than on books. Yet we are told that there are more books being bought today than ever (although we are reading fewer of them!) so maybe it has more to do with how books are sold.

It was mostly the co-opting of our bookselling industry by mega-players. We all know Amazon is evil. But the large chain bookstores are mostly carbon copies with little local autonomy. When I asked our local Chapters about stocking my book (not self-published, carried by a large Canadian distributor) I was told that all purchasing is initiated by head office! The only way I was able to have my book carried in my local store was to arrange for a signing, a cheerless four hours where I was given a table and abandoned, with customers studiously avoiding eye contact as they hurried past. Not even the staff came over to see what I was doing there!

The reason independents were (and still are!) such an important part of book culture is that they actually know their stock and know what their customers want. Their customers are invested as well in seeing the store thrive. Sean and Andrew, Take Cover’s co-owners, both love books, read profusely, and are familiar with many of the titles on their shelves. If you ask for a recommendation they will have one, no matter what your interests. If you want a book they don't have they will gladly bring it in. They put out a regular newsletter (you can subscribe here) that gives a run down of new arrivals as well as in depth features on books that they have recently read. They have an online book club you can join here. They organize author and book events that are actually promoted and supported by them and their customers, who also love books. Including mine

Andrew and Sean tell me that, with their generation at least, there is a push back to the Amazons and mega chains in this world, with a real desire to support local and small and use purchase dollars to make a difference in this world. I hope they are right - we need to push back against the soulless and mindless commercialism we are all being herded towards. I tell everyone I meet that Peterborough has a new independent bookstore.

Spread the word.

Book signing at Take Cover Books, Saturday, November 18, 2023, 12 a.m. to 2 p.m.

That's about it. I will be at Take Cover, hanging out, talking about my book, signing books and sharing some of the art and conceptual work around creating a graphic novel. If you haven't been to the store yet this is as good a time as ever to drop by! The store is at 59 Hunter Street East in East City. Hope to see you there!

My very own book trailer!

I have the best publisher in the world. On a cold Alberta winter day Alexander at Renegade shlepped out onto a frozen river with an advance copy of Secrets of Jarrow, propped it up in the snow, and then shot this video with a drone. Too cool.

And finally...

If you haven't signed up for my newsletter yet you have missed another preview, this time from Book 3! The sign up form is below...