There is something magical about the Book Shop in the 200 block of Main Street.
Being a fixture in the downtown core for 40 years, the Book Shop is part of the fabric and uniqueness of downtown.
With its 5,000 square feet filled floor-to-ceiling of books and movies, it makes it the largest independent book store in Canada, right here in Penticton.
Every nook and cranny is filled with books as far as the eye can wander. The Book Shop is a destination for any book lover.
In fact, people have been known to base their vacations around a visit to the Book Shop.
But visitors from out of town haven’t been allowed to visit and even foot traffic of locals was down this winter, said Lisette Stevenson who works with her mom Pam and brother Tavis at the shop.
The founder of The Book Shop, Bruce Stevenson, passed away in 2019.
He prided himself on being his hometown’s go-to bookstore.
In fact, pre-pandemic, the Book Shop handled enough volume to employ six full-time employees as well as student help in the busy summer months.
The Stevensons do worry a bit about what the future holds for small businesses like theirs as the pandemic drags on. No big draw from tourists, no Saturday market traffic, the loss of some regulars who don’t shop right now.
“This time last year we had voluntarily shut down. When we did open up again we saw a dip in the amount of customers coming in. Some of our older customers weren’t comfortable visiting and some are immune-compromised.”
It’s something every small business is experiencing, she added.
The new pay parking on Main Street was a double whammy.
“People don’t want to put $2 in the meter to buy a $5 book,” she said.
During winter months, the book store would get visitors here for conventions, bridge and hockey tournaments. But of course, none of that happened this year.
“We are trying to be optimistic like everyone else. When the vaccinations ramp up, we are hoping our regulars and visitors will return again.”
Canada’s Largest Independent Bookstore
The store does offer curbside pick-up. But much like the old-fashioned notion of books, the Book Shop doesn’t have a fancy website or an online ordering system and they aren’t on social media.
“You just have to call us up and we will know if we have the book you want,” said Lisette.
And with tens of thousands of books in the store, there’s a good chance they have what you are looking for. From new releases and classics to the obscure and historical, they have it all.
They have a great children’s section too with everything from Harry Potter to classic fairy tales.
Mysterious Iron Scorch in the Carpet
“We can’t claim the history of that scorch. We think there was a dry cleaning and seamstress business here in this building sometime before us,” she said. The building is more than 100 years old, matching the age of some of the books they have.
“It’s a neat thing to think about… the historical lineage of a book. Who wrote it, who has owned it. We have a few rare signed copies of books, some inscriptions that are pretty unique,” she said.
The Book Shop’s Beginnings
The Book Shop exists because of Lisette and Tavis’ dad Bruce who returned to his hometown with a dream and car loads of books.
In 1974, Bruce opened up the first Book Shop on Martin St.
That’s before the internet and when encyclopedias were still the main source of information.
The Stevensons moved to the 200 block of Main in the 80s where the store stands today.
Bruce was an avid reader and also a huge fan of foreign film, amassing an amazing collection of international films on VHS and DVD that are still there today. You can also rent new release movies for $3 for three days.
“It’s on an honour system. If you have a late fee, you put money in the jar for the SPCA,” said Lisette.
Tavis credits his dad’s love of books and film for making the Book Shop what it is today.
“My dad was instrumental in creating this huge collection of books and foreign film. My mom is instrumental in organizing it all,” he said.
Storefront Art and Huge Book Mural in Alley
Visitors are lured in first by the whimsical wood art that sits above the Book Shop.
The 3D art, that has become such an iconic part of Main Street, was actually created by Tavis Stevenson.
“I made the carts look like wood but they actually aren’t,” said Tavis.
Now sparrows call the back of the carts home, coming every year to nest and raise their young, he said.
Tavis is also responsible for Penticton’s largest and most colourful mural located in the back alley behind the Book Shop.
“My friend Darren and I painted that book mural more than 20 years ago with latex paint. I can’t believe the colours have stood up after all this time,” he said. “It’s been vandalized from time to time. A car even drove into the wall once.”
The Book Shop mural has a book and animal theme, with an owl standing on a stack of books and a cat stretching itself on books. As well, there is a boy sitting down intently reading and a girl finding a quiet place underneath the stairs to read.
The mural was actually meant to stretch onto the former Tim Horton’s but the coffee shop corporate office changed their mind, he said.
Now, the mural stands as one of the most beloved in Penticton, much like the Book Shop it is painted on.
The Book Shop, at 242 Main Street, is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.