Shop Talk is a new one-off section in which young independent booksellers take part Q&Q in their stores and share their reasons for opening and how business has gone so far.
125 West 1st Street
North Vancouver, BC
Owner and founder Matt Sturrock and co-founder Lizzie Lee opened Helicon Books in North Vancouver on August 5, 2022. The 1,479 square foot store is not far from the waterfront in the city’s shipyard district.
It’s not either of them’s first foray into selling books: Sturrock landed at Nicholas Hoare of Toronto, now closed, in 2002 for what he thought was a brief job between two edition gigs. He stayed for six and a half years before moving to England, where he spent 10 years with Daunt Books in London. Lee took a temporary summer job with Waterstones UK in 2009 while still at university, taking on a role as a buyer and manager once she graduated. She transferred to Daunt Books in 2017, where she and Sturrock met.
“Like many booksellers, I suppose, we got into the business almost by accident, and then, for all its aggravations and disappointments, we decided it was far less obnoxious than most other careers available to us. “, says Sturrock.
Sturrock recently answered some questions for Q&Q on Helicon Books’ first few months of operation.
Why open Helicon Books in 2022?
We were both unemployed and bored with the endless job search in Vancouver. All I had to do was liquidate my meager savings and doom the two of us to a life of endless financial precariousness. And, with war in Europe, a looming recession, record levels of inflation, and post-pandemic supply chain chaos, now seemed like a better time than ever to start a small business.
How did the community and its readers react to the store?
The locals haven’t had a bookstore selling new titles since I believe 2012 when Book Warehouse closed its location on Lonsdale. They were understandably excited about our arrival, and we returned the favor with our own happy outpourings. For the most part, it’s been a big love-in so far.
How do you reach potential readers?
We occasionally add a little squeal of book news to the noise wall there [on social media]. But, in reality, it’s foot traffic and good word-of-mouth that generates most of our customers; this word-of-mouth, I hope, results from our diligent curating and enthusiastic hand-selling.
What are your goals for the bookstore? Does the store have a particular orientation?
We simply want to provide a welcoming place for inquiry and epiphany, and we strive to offer a range of novels, short stories, essay collections, poetry, history, travel, food and drink. exceptionally good art. The internet can be a huge reservoir of anger and misinformation, university humanities departments are in decline, and movie theaters are flooded with tedious CGI shows, so independent bookstores are more important than ever as sources of sophisticated entertainment, as intellectual centers and as bulwarks against all the ugliness and smugness there.
What was most surprising or unexpected about opening a bookstore or your first few months in business?
We were very surprised by people’s greed for difficult books; there’s a group of hardcore readers looking for modernist masterpieces, little quirks in translation, deep stories from faraway places, and more. We initially balked at the idea that we might only be selling Colleen Hoover and other miscellaneous BookTok phenoms, but there’s always a customer that comes through the door that we could sell to, say, Abdulrazak Gurnah. afterlife, or a philippic by EM Cioran, or the explanation of surveillance capitalism by Shoshanna Zuboff, or the reportage of Erika Fatland’s trip to Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. It was very encouraging.
Also: books on mushrooms. Which give? There is an insatiable appetite there. by Merlin Sheldrake Tangled life surpasses the last winner of the Booker Prize.
This interview has been edited and condensed.