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Inaugural Independent Bookstore Day deemed Christmas in April for several booksellers

Canada’s first Independent Bookstore Day, which was held this year on April 28, marked the transformation and rebranding of the three-year-old Authors for Indies program into a series of events for more than 50 independent Canadian bookstores.

The intentionally low-key event was the first under new organizer, the Retail Council of Canada, which took over the Authors for Indies initiative earlier this year from founder Janie Chang. Booksellers Shelley Macbeth of Uxbridge’s Blue Heron Books and Mary-Ann Yazedjian of Vancouver’s Book Warehouse remained on as industry consultants.

Although the event shifted its focus from Authors for Indies, which featured writers handselling titles at local bookshops, several stores that participated still incorporated the old format into their plans. In Collingwood, Ont., Simcoe Street Books owners Rina Barone and Chris Dunk celebrated the store’s six-month anniversary, while their sister shop in nearby Creemore, Curiosity House Books, celebrated its 23 years in business. Barone decided to focus on local writers and create events that doubled as community parties to “mark spring and summer and the start of festivals and events.”

Local authors Dan Needles and Catherine Randall hand-sold their favourite reads at Simcoe Street, while Cecily Ross (The Lost Diaries of Susanna Moodie) and Paul Eprile (translator of Jean Giono’s Hill and Melville) signed copies of their books and made recommendations to customers. In addition to cake and authors, Simcoe Street offered customers 10–25 per cent discounts drawn from a jar at time of purchase. Barone says it “would probably have been a very ordinary Saturday” otherwise, but customers “were aware that it was a national event that was happening, so people wanted to support independent bookstores.” Barone said that even with the discounts, sales volume was double an ordinary Saturday at both locations.

Russell Books – a used, collectible, and new bookstore in Victoria, B.C. – also decided to follow the Authors for Indies format for another year. Nandini Thaker, the store’s events and social media co-ordinator, says the event allowed “authors to mingle with customers but also do what they do best, which is talk about their books or talk about books they enjoy.” Local authors Jack Knox, Lucky Budd, C.C. Humphries, and Jennifer Manuel participated (Pat Carney had to cancel due to illness), while Jack Knox and Jennifer Manuel oversaw the store’s Bibliotherapy Booth.

“Authors,” Thaker says, “have a different perspective than we do as booksellers.”

Despite a rainy day and construction right outside the shop, Thaker says the event was reminiscent of the store’s Christmas season. There were pastries from the bakery next door, fresh popcorn, and every customer who spent $50 or more received a free book. “It was a lot of fun, it seemed like everyone who was in the store enjoyed being there,” she says.

In Sarnia, Ont., The Book Keeper owner Susan Chamberlain and her staff organized a day that included discounts ranging from 15 to 50 per cent, free book draws with every purchase (they won the value of their purchase in store credit), a kids’ make-your-own-bookmark crafts table, a stepped-up #bookface event, and cake.

“The store was full all day long, the cash was lined up,” says Chamberlain, who says that customers seemed aware of the Independent Bookstore Day brand. “I love the rebranding. It acknowledges and embraces the independent aspect of the bookstores and it allows us all to celebrate in our own unique ways.” Chamberlain estimates sales were triple an average Saturday, even with 15-25 per cent discounts.

“It was like a Christmas day,” she says. “They were buying just for the sake of supporting us.”