After 45 years in downtown Penticton, Bruce Stevenson has sold his final book.
The Book Shop founder and owner is retiring, handing the business over to his wife, Pam, their children and his staff, many of whom have been with him for decades.
A former high school teacher, he gave it all up in 1974 to open a used bookstore in Penticton, first on Martin Street (as Valley Books and Things) and then at 242 Main St., a location he’s been at for the past 27 years. At one point in the early years, they had three small stores operating.
“The biggest enjoyment is the books and the people,” he said, reflecting on the past 45 years. “I like the people who work for me. It’s a fun place to go. But, I like the product. I probably like seeking the books more than selling them, but I have to sell some or else I can’t continue to seek them.”
The Stevensons own the 5,000-square-foot store and consider it the best business decision they made. They bought at a time when real estate was more affordable and they’ve never had to pay rent.
There are 80,000 books on display, plus an equal number in storage at their home and a storeroom in the basement of Nanaimo Square. As Stevenson loves Canadian and independent film, the store also offers 25,000 movies for rent. Name a title and chances are they have it, even if it’s decades old. Unlike most of us, they never tossed their old VHS tapes.
“It’s a second-hand product that’s always new and that’s fun. It’s fun seeing books that you’ve never seen before, books that are not common,” Bruce said. “In my line of work, you never get bored.”
Like fashion, trends in books change. Two areas that evolved are the horror genre and books for young readers.
“When we were starting out, in horror you’d have Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining and a few books like that. Now you have an entire wall. It’s like that with the tween books — books aimed at children who are bridging between Winnie the Pooh and adult material. That’s an area that’s really come on,” Bruce said.
Pam praises their staff of 12. Even with thousands of books in stock, they seem to know where to find everything.
“Staff is exceptional,” she said. “Customers appreciate that if you ask a question, the staff can answer it. Our staff has knowledge and they spend a lot of their own time doing research. You won’t get that in Chapters. Our staff all have degrees and they’re smart. They could work elsewhere, but love doing what they are doing.”
All of the Stevensons’ children began working in the store as soon as they were old enough, and the family often brought their dogs to work.
As for the customers, they range in age from toddlers to 100-year-olds. There’s no set demographic because reading is still in vogue with all ages, even in the era of tablets.
“Except for a time five or six years ago, we’ve remained fairly consistent,” Pam said. “The summer is by far our busiest time of year — three times the amount of business we’d have in the winter — and that’s because of the tourists. In the days when the Trade and Convention Centre was going strong, we did really well because so many people would come in here.”
All sales are now exclusively in store. Several years ago, they offered an online service and did OK with it, but found the cost of postage to be excessive.
The Book Shop, described by many as “Vancouver calibre,” has remained in Penticton for the mere reason that Bruce grew up in the Peach City. It’s known by book collectors across the country.
He doesn’t have a favourite author or genre because that’s always changing. As for film, he loves movies by Joel and Ethan Coen, believing their work is the most consistent in film history.
The Stevensons were humbled when told one of their regular customers was visiting famed bookstore Shakespeare & Company in Paris and had a book bag from The Book Shop. The clerk recognized the name of the store and began asking questions.
The store’s most famous customer was Nicolas Cage, who visited several stores downtown when he was in Oliver shooting a movie. The Academy Award-winning actor bought a book on magic.
Video rentals are not as lucrative as book sales but, as a former film teacher, Stevenson is glad to offer the service.
“People are surprised that you can still go back and do what you used to do and browse a shop for that night’s entertainment. I like the fact that somebody who has come to Penticton from the University of Alberta or UBC who are used to going to places like Cinema 16, that those types of films are available in a smaller town.”
When asked if he has any regrets, Bruce said, without hesitation, “no.”
“We’ll have our fingers in the pie. We’re not selling off. It’s just going to the younger generation,” he said.