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Storied life of an indie book store

Talewind Books
Talewind Books
Owner Bev Shaw (left) and Paula Robertson greet customers at Talewind Books in Sechelt.

Sometimes a reader will pick up a book at just the right time and find that the story offers a parallel with his or her life. For Bev Shaw, owner of Talewind Books in Sechelt, just such a book was published earlier this year — The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (Penguin Canada).

It’s a light, quirky read — it tells of the ups and downs of an independent book store owner who defies the computer age and runs his business from an island where sales are best when summer visitors arrive by ferry.

Sound familiar?

Shaw has run Talewind Books for the past 27 years and continues to do so while many other independent book stores are closing their doors, victims to online book giants such as Amazon or dips in the economy.

“People are being cautious about how they spend their money,” Shaw said. “They come looking for something specific.”

There are fewer customers browsing now, she points out, though people are still reading as much as before.

“The kids follow their favourites online,” she said. “They phone and ask ‘It’s releasing today. Have you got it yet?’”

Shaw has been in business throughout the advent of computerized cataloguing, and she notes that they can now make a special order for a customer and receive it within one day. It contrasts with her first store order, 27 years ago — a handwritten message dropped in the corner mailbox with books shipped to her through the post office.

In the novel, the crusty Fikry would really like customers to appreciate good literature more, but he must stock what sells, and he must deal with pesky publishing sales representatives. Things change for him when a suicidal stranger abandons a little girl in his book shop with instructions to make sure the youngster grows up to be a reader.

As quickly as things turn around for Fikry, so they become better for everyone in the island town. As the years go by and the future of indie book stores seems uncertain, Fikry continues. He spurns e-readers and stocks unknown authors because he likes them. He is the first to put a book in the hands of a child who will become a reader for life and he finds himself inspiring book clubs. Soon, even the town’s police chief is reading more and sponsoring a book club for other cops.

The literate police chief speaks to the heart of the book when he explains that, “Book stores attract the right kind of folk … A place ain’t a place without a book store.” It is this thought that resonates with Shaw.

“People who read are interesting,” she said.

Talewind can offer readers good service, recommendations for gifts and friendly conversation, but it is customer support that is the key to survival for small book stores.

“The clientele here is loyal,” she said. “They’re repeat customers.”

Indie book stores are not only important to readers, but to the increasing ranks of local authors as well, many of whom are now self-publishing. Shaw and her staff go out to many book launches and readings all over the Coast to sell the latest titles and boost sales for Coast authors and publishers. It’s hard to get people out to these events, but even if the author’s audience is only family and friends, the promotion helps.

“You just never know how many will attend,” she added.

As an example, a reading by CBC’s Grant Lawrence attracted a huge crowd for his Desolation Sound book (published locally by Harbour Publishing), but when he came to the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre once more to launch his new book about hockey, only 15 people showed.

And what of the economy when money is tight and the price of reading has shot up? “What cost $19.99 20 years ago costs $29 now or maybe $21 in paperback,” Shaw said. “Books are still good value.”

More information can be found at Staff will also be on hand to sell books at this year’s Festival of the Written Arts in August.