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Love, Death & Other Words: two indie booksellers team up to take horror and romance on the road

Tables set up at Hamilton’s Collective Arts Brewery for the Love, Death & Other Words Book Crawl. (photo courtesy Happily Ever After)

Two new Toronto-based independent bookstore owners aim to recreate the anticipation and joy of elementary school book fairs for adults with a series of events across Ontario this year.

In April 2022, Chris Krawczyk launched Little Ghosts Books, an independent horror bookstore and café in Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood, alongside his husband, Jason Krawczyk, to create a space for horror readers that was accessible, inclusive, and allowed them to shop ethically. During interviews with Toronto Life and The Toronto Star about Little Ghosts – for reportedly being Canada’s first independent horror bookstore – Krawczyk learned of Jennifer Pool and her recently launched romance-exclusive, online-only bookstore, Happily Ever After books. 

The two first met at Toronto’s Word on the Street Festival in June 2022 – Pool’s first ever pop-up event – and upon meeting Pool, Krawczyk readily offered up Little Ghosts as a potential pop-up space for her.

“[Chris] said, ‘If you ever want to do a pop-up in our bookstore, we would love to have you,’” Pool says, “And that’s how we became friends.”

Pool took Krawczyk up on his offer: she hosted a pop-up at Little Ghosts Books in July 2022 and returned this February for Valentine’s Day. But outside of Little Ghosts, she has sometimes struggled to book spaces. Pool has sent “dozens and dozens and dozens” of e-mail inquiries to various venues about hosting a pop-up, emphasizing that she was willing to pay, but was predominantly met with “crickets.”

“And if [the response] wasn’t crickets, it was, ‘Romance? Really?’” says Pool. “That was really frustrating.”

When Pool shared her experience with Krawczyk, he came up with the idea of both stores holding a book fair together. Not only would their combined power make it easier to book venues, but a travelling book fair would bring their titles to readers outside of Toronto – and it would also allow them to share the space with other indie booksellers and publishers who wanted to join them.

Pool and Krawczyk held their first Love, Death & Other Words Book Crawl in March at Kingston’s Daft Brewery, an event that also drew readers from Toronto who wanted to show support for the booksellers, followed by another at Hamilton’s Collective Arts Brewery in April and a booth at Toronto’s Word on the Street festival in May. Guests have included Toronto’s The Sidekick comic shop, and publishers Invisible Publishing and Wolsak & Wynn.

The best part of these book fairs, Pool and Krawczyk say, is connecting with customers about their mutual love of romance and horror. Krawczyk recalls meeting a customer at one of the fairs who happened to be an original subscriber to Little Ghosts’ horror book subscription program (in which readers sign up to have horror books delivered monthly or once every four months). Pool says she remembers every person who buys a book at her pop-ups and has begun to recognize frequent customers.

“I think people don’t realize the impact that they have on small independent booksellers,” says Pool. “[People are] floored that I remember them and I’m like, ‘Of course I remember you – you have significantly changed the course of my life over the last year by supporting our store.’”

Krawczyk and Pool held a fair at Whitby’s Little Beasts Brewing Company on June 24 and 25, with additional events planned for Hamilton on July 15 and 16, and Kitchener and Ottawa later this year. “We have romance, we have horror – both get your blood running in different ways,” Pool says. “And also, there’s beer!”