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2017 Year in Review: New booksellers share experiences from their first year behind the counter

Queen Books

Queen Books, Toronto

We’re getting to know some regulars already, and it’s been fun and interesting to see different reading tastes and get to know what works and what doesn’t. What’s been really nice is that people are so enthusiastic about events, too. One of the really surprising things – though we knew our kids’ section was going to be important – is that far and away the most sales are from our kids’ section. There are so many young families in this neighbourhood.

One of the challenges has been trying to get our hours right. Initially we opened, and we were like, “10-6, no problem!” And now we’re 10-8. We’re just trying to figure out exactly the best times. –Alex Snider

There are so many restaurants around here, so we actually have quite a big late-night crowd. We need to have a 24-hour bookstore. It’s been a pretty overwhelmingly positive experience; we really lucked out with the time and place. We’ve been welcomed with open arms – not just by the community, but also by the publishers. –Liz Burns


Mabel Murple’s Book Shoppe and Dreamery, River John, N.S.

Even better than the phenomenal sales we had in nine weeks was the experience of seeing families gather, browse, buy Canadian, then go out and read beneath an apple tree and visit donkeys. It truly was amazing. From teachers to tourists, we had them all – we’re on a dirt road, yet they found us. We are still reeling. –Sheree Fitch

(Jeff Kirby)

Knife Fork Book, Toronto

The good news is poetry does indeed sell. As I envisioned, it simply requires a marketing strategy: elevating poets/poetry the same (if not more) status we give bestsellers. As we are finding out, poetry has its stars, too, and it also has an intensively engaged, loyal community of readers and writers that thrives on what’s current and exciting, as well as the lineage of what informs the new. Key to this has been our vibrant reading and event series where more than 170 poets have read in our first year, along with a book club introducing readers to new and sometimes challenging work, and establishing close ties with publishers – in particular, those that produce limited editions of chapbooks that we often carry exclusively. We also launched our own imprint, releasing five titles in our first year, two of which have sold out. Now we’ve moved into a larger studio space, and we’ll be launching KFB brand merchandise of poetry journals, totes, pencils, mugs, etc., and an online shop to increase our sustainability. –Jeff Kirby


Hunter Street Books, Peterborough, Ont.

It’s been way better than I hoped. Not sure if it’s just a spike because I’m new and everyone is grateful to have an indie downtown, but there are a lot of serious and good buyers in Peterborough. I was hoping to break even but managed to hire staff and make some money this year. Pay off the debts a bit. I have regular customers and faithful ones; online buyers and the webstore have helped a lot, too. And some professors from Trent University have ordered their books here so I’ve got a great group of students popping in. –Michelle Berry


Georgian Bay Books, Midland, Ont.

We have been in this industry a long time, so having our own bookstore is very rewarding. Kate Hilton was here in the summer to sign her new book and we have been a part of many other fantastic town events. The Midland area has been supportive and we look forward to many more years in business. –Sandy Dunsford and Sarah Kenney


Book WardrobeThe Book Wardrobe, Mississauga, Ont.

We’re barely two months old, but this is what we’ve experienced so far: The first month was all about letting everybody know we exist. We were visible in print and social media, but what really worked for us was traditional marketing – word-of-mouth, street signage, and flyer distribution. Sales were challenging, but we saw an improvement as we entered the second. We believe the uptick was generated by more awareness from our customers and by customer service. As we are a small bookstore, we don’t have enough room to carry all categories. However, we have made customers happy by getting them books they initially couldn’t find at the store. They’re pleased with the personal touch of having someone call or email them to let them know that their book is available and ready for pick up.

We observed that our bookstore is a destination of purpose. Customers will only go with the conscious intention of buying. We are not dependent on high foot traffic. People who happen to see our sidewalk sign will come in and check out the store out of curiosity, but will not necessarily buy anything. They only come back if they need to make a purchase. The good part, though, is that they are already aware of our presence, and know where to find us. That’s a start. –Carmela Vedar