Shop Talk is an occasional feature in which fledgling independent booksellers take Q&Q into their stores and share their reasons for opening and what business has been like so far.
The Spaniel’s Tale Bookstore
1131 Wellington Street West
Cole and Stephen Davidson had always dreamed of opening a bookstore one day, maybe after they retired. But the COVID-19 pandemic and Cole’s grandmother’s dementia diagnosis reminded them that life is fragile, so they jumped into action to make this maybe-someday dream a reality.
“We decided if this was something we were serious about, there was no sense in waiting because tomorrow is never guaranteed,” Cole Davidson says.
Although neither he nor his partner Stephen have a background in bookselling – Cole worked in political communications for the last 10 years, and Stephen works in real estate as a property administrator – both have retail experience from previous jobs in the quick-service and banking industries.
They opened The Spaniel’s Tale Bookstore (the name inspired by their English springer spaniel), a general trade store selling new books and sidelines, on September 3, 2022. The store includes about 900 square feet of selling space in addition to a small back room used for storage.
Cole Davidson recently answered a few questions for Q&Q about what the opening months of business have been like.
What was it about the neighbourhood that inspired you to open The Spaniel’s Tale?
We chose the Hintonburg/Wellington West neighbourhood because it was really missing an independent bookstore. Ottawa has a few successful indies, and each one is unique and reflective of their area. It’s been a little over 10 years since Collected Works, the last indie to operate in this neighbourhood closed its doors. We spoke to the former owners of that store as well as the owners of the other bookstores in Ottawa and everyone said the same thing: this community needs a bookstore. The demographics are perfect for our type of store, and when we found the right location with plenty of foot traffic, we knew it was time to pull the trigger.
How has the neighbourhood and its readers responded to the store?
The support from the community has been incredible and far beyond our expectations. We had a line of people outside waiting to get in on opening day. We were lined up inside all day and the store was packed. Local politicians, including the mayor, stopped by to wish us well, and we got plenty of great media coverage in our local paper and on CTV. We even got to promote some of our favourite local authors on CTV Morning Live Ottawa. Everyone tells us the same thing when they visit: this community needed a bookstore.
How do you reach potential readers?
We’ve been fortunate to receive a lot of earned media so we haven’t used any paid advertising yet. We have a steadily growing social media following on Facebook and Instagram, and we’ve started to play around with TikTok, though we have a lot to learn there. We also have a weekly email newsletter with well over 1,000 subscribers so far. We believe word of mouth is playing a big role in our success as members of the community spread the word that we’re here, and our location on a busy main street within sight of a public library branch certainly helps.
What are your goals for the bookstore? Does the store have any special focus?
We’re a general trade bookstore with a little bit of everything. As we get to know what the community is looking for, our selection will evolve to meet those needs, but right now we don’t have a focus. We carry all of the bestsellers as well as a curated selection of the classics and some of our favourites. We also have a large kid’s section. We learned early on through a survey that the community really wanted us to carry French children’s books, so that’s a good example of us evolving to meet the needs of the community. Our goal is to be a safe community space for everyone to learn and discover new ideas and perspectives, and to be a core member of the community, a warm and inviting “third space” that everyone knows and loves.
What has been most surprising or unexpected about opening a bookstore or about your first few months in business?
There have been so many surprises. We knew it was going to be a lot of work but it’s even more than we expected! I’m in the shop by myself during the day and Stephen joins me in the evenings when he finishes working at his other job. We have a part-time student employee who helps out on weekends, but we’re open seven days a week and it’s been a lot of work. But when I see a little kid sitting on the rug in the kid’s section with a pile of books around them, it’s all worth it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.