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‘Pillars’ of pages: Canadian Independent Bookstore Day supports strong community shops

Posted on: April 28, 2021

Hilary Atleo and her husband Cliff Atleo Jr. opened their Iron Dog Books in December of 2019, just a couple of months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

At first glance, this was not a great timing kind of a tale, but turn the page and the story quickly becomes about the power and necessity of the independent bookstore.

“We’re really lucky that we are in the city and have the community that we have, so things are going really well. Has it been a real rollercoaster of a year, especially because we were only open a little under four months in the storefront when everything shut down, then yes,” says Atleo, who runs the East Vancouver store as well a book truck. “Vancouver is an incredible town for books and literature and the book scene and for book lovers and for writers. I feel really fortunate that we have our shop in this kind of a community.”

On Saturday, April 24 Iron Dog Books, which specializes in books on critical race studies and Indigenous literature, will be one of the many Canadian independent bookstores celebrating Canadian Independent Bookstore Day.

“Right now in this pandemic and this time it is an opportunity for us to show how great Vancouver is as a book town,” says Atleo. “There is such an incredible diversity of independent book stores and the sorts of things we specialize in. So Canadian Independent Bookstore Day, I think, is really important as an idea. As an idea of how much book shops contribute to our communities and how much we are places of organization, of gathering and networking with each other, and of ideas.”

Canadian Independent Booksellers Association (CIBA) board director Cathy Jesson, who also owns Black Bond Books in Surrey, echoes Atleo’s description of the local bookstore as a place to meet, greet and share ideas.

“Beyond their support of the Canadian literary ecosystem, independent bookstores are pillars of their local communities,” Jesson said in an email. “They offer inclusive space for important dialogue and cross-generational community engagement. And, when this is over, they will be a place for coming together once more.”

When COVID forced the in-store shopping and browsing to stop, storeowners had to find new ways to connect with the public.

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