VIDEO: Iconic Penticton bookstore thrives by being passionately unique | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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VIDEO: Iconic Penticton bookstore thrives by being passionately unique

PENTICTON - It’s an iconic business on Penticton’s Main Street having been at same location for more than a quarter century; and people who know it, know it well.

The Book Shop has continued to thrive at its downtown location despite the decline in the book store industry brought on by the internet.

Bruce Stevenson and his partner Pam own the store, which he calls a general store of used books, selling both fiction and non-fiction including fine art, photography, music, Canadiana, oenology (the study of wine), military and modern literature.

“The idea was to be a big city bookstore in a small town,” Bruce explains, and in viewing the vast collection of books, it’s easy to see that goal has been accomplished.

The Book Shop began in a 400 square foot shop on Martin Street 44 years ago. Bruce and Pam had returned to the city where Bruce grew up following a tour of Australia, the South Pacific and Southeast Asia, and the two were looking to do something new with their lives after giving up their jobs on the Lower Mainland where Bruce was a high school teacher and Pam worked as an occupational therapist.

The store began as Valley Books and Things. Bruce says at first they weren’t sure what they were going to sell, but books looked like a good bet, and that’s what they eventually chose to focus on.

Thirteen years later, the two had expanded their operation to a new location across the street, where Three Gables Liquor Store is now. When they realized they could sell hard cover books in Penticton, they began stocking the 5,000 square foot main street location they are in now.

And stock they have.

“It’s amazing we’ve survived, but you have to be big,” Bruce says. The present store is packed with books — between 80,000 and 100,000 — and those are just the ones you can readily see, with just as many in boxes, under shelves and in storage in the basement of the old post office.

Many of the books have been purchased from people walking in the door, while tthers are acquired through publishers' clearances and remainders sales.

Bruce says he loves to get unique copies of books, but there simply aren’t enough available to keep the store going.

“This is a starter store for book collectors. You can get in a collecting position to buy more and expensive books with a start here,” he says, adding he’s satisfied his curiosity in a number of subjects over the years by getting interested in a topic and pursuing it through books, sometimes for years.

The store also sells DVDs and videos, with more than 24,000 in stock. Bruce says the books complement the video section.

“We’ve always been interested in video. We wanted to create a one-stop shop where you could pick up a book or a movie for the night.”

Bruce says the bookstore survives on a number of locals who loyally patronize the store through the “10 winter months" outside the main tourism months of July and August.

“We have those two months other bookstores don’t have. We have that tourist trade where many people are trapped in town without anything to read,” he says. “We’re especially busy if it’s raining early in the morning, if the sand is wet. People often return each summer to replenish their reading stock as well. We do three times the business in summer than the rest of the year.”

Bruce says the store’s advertising is completely by word of mouth, although they are listed in the Lonely Planet guidebook which notes The Book Shop is "a great place to be on a rainy night, one of the biggest and best bookstores in Canada.”

Their store is something akin to an aging movie actor who’s never been particularly good, he says.

“But you’ve lived to be 95, and you need to be respected.”

Most of the publications in The Book Shop sell for $10 or less and Bruce says used book pricing is the thing that will make or break a business like theirs.

“Whether you like the prices or not, there’s going to be a certain fairness in them,” he says. “It’s like a democracy, there’s got to be a willingness to compromise. Everybody’s going to be unhappy but willing to compromise on... what the price should be."

Bruce says the store was early getting online and making use of the internet and achieved some limited success selling rare and collectable books, but costs negated most of the profits. The store still has an online presence, albeit a limited one.

Bruce and Pam recently put all four of their kids on the store’s ownership papers in hopes the bookstore will continue through them.

“We’re passing it on, hoping it will continue if we keep it in the family,” he says.

The store has 10 employees. The oldest is 80, with three 70-year-olds working in the store and some teenagers thrown in the mix.

“I’ve always loved books, always loved to put books in order. I often wonder how people who don’t have this addiction get any pleasure in life,” Bruce laughs. “I’m 77 years old, and I still enjoy coming to work each day. If that’s not a ringing endorsement of what a fun place this is, I don’t know what would be.

"I’m very happy we did this."


To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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