Michael Mullin owns Mermaid Tales Bookshop in Tofino and Susan Lee runs Blackberry Cove Marketplace in Ucluelet. They both posted banner book sales this summer, tarnishing the notion that bricks and mortar bookstores are going the way of the dinosaur.
Their customers appreciate a spectrum of quality reads, including: local history, West Coast culinary, spiritual guidance, and First Nations culture.
“As a bookseller, it’s an honour to get away with what I stock. I don’t have to sell trash to survive. And I’ve learned with our visitors, the travellers, they’re not afraid of serious. They’re not afraid of deep,” Mullin told the Westerly News as a solid flow of customers bustled through his shop on a Friday afternoon.
Lee, who opened her combination bookshop/health food store a couple years ago, has seen a gradual improvement in her business season after season. The entrepreneur couldn’t stand the idea of living in a town without a bookstore or wholefood store, so she decided to open one herself.
“There’s something about holding a book… Seeing the cover and feeling it, it’s more than just what are the words on the page,” Lee said.
“And the excitement of buying the book and taking it home. There’s always going to be people that want that.”
And while online behemoths like Amazon remain the obvious killjoy to independently owned bookshops, Mullin doesn’t necessarily see the digital realm as being a lifelong enemy.
“People are always freaking out that digital is trashing print books, but that’s not happening at all. In fact, digital is rescuing literacy,” he said.
“If someone is reading, doesn’t matter if it is on a telephone, they’re not playing Angry Birds or watching stupid TV. They’re actually reading, so that’s good.” Book culture in Ucluelet appears to be on the rise as Lee pointed out that there are already three bookclubs and a fourth in the works for the New Year.
“I think there’s always going to be a place for bookstores. I just think we have to be smart and specialize in certain areas,” said Lee who catalogues ten different books on mushrooms.
On the other side of the coin, Lee also mentioned that some locals still have their heads in the clouds to the fact that Ucluelet has a bookshop.
“I had a tourist come in this summer that asked someone at the Co-op if there was a bookstore in town and they said no,” she said laughing in disbelief and noting her little bookshop is just around the corner.