It Takes a Village, or Rather a Community: Epic Books Owner, Jaime Krakowski
On the day that I decided to leave my full-time job to pursue the dream of opening a bookstore, it seemed like a completely reasonable decision. Admittedly, I had no retail experience and had never worked in the book business, but I was sick of commuting into Toronto and ready for a change. Besides I had done my market research and felt confident that I could just train myself on the job.
Looking back, I was clearly a bit delusional. To the credit, or determent, of everyone in my life nobody pointed that out or discouraged me. It wasn’t until I opened the doors and had to deal with the incredulity of everyone else that I started to sense it. Did I not know how risky the book business is? How was I going to compete with the big box stores? A new independent bookstore? Wow. Also, my personal favourite — you’re so young! Admittedly, I don’t hear that one as much anymore, but it always brings a smile to my face.
Still even after seven years I get a variation on one of those questions almost every single day. Or at the very least, an I can’t believe you’re still here! How long has it been, three years?
Honestly, I used to find these queries a touch insulting and a little bit patronizing; obviously I knew exactly what I was doing — even when I didn’t, because I’m stubborn like that. At some point though I just stopped trying to explain and now just give the simplest answer of all: I’m a book lover. It turns out, though, that many people generally don’t think that a love of all things literary is a good enough reason to open a business and doubt my response. Odd, right?
So, if a passion for books isn’t enough to keep the doors open, what is? In my opinion the answer is simple — community. Being surrounded by like-minded people who really value what you’re trying to do and offer up their support is so important — from the sales reps that follow along on social media and reach out to recommend potential events or share news just because they think you’ll get a kick out of it, to friends who have helped out with ridiculous tasks (like labelling an entire store’s worth of inventory so you can get the doors open), to family that accepts that you will never be able to do anything the week before Christmas (and will likely sleep through most of the holiday), and arguably most important, to the staff that create fun windows, host book clubs, share ideas and are just generally amazingly creative.
There are also the authors that visit or respond on Twitter when you gush over how much you love their work, always a thrill. The regulars that pop their head in the door to tell you if they’re enjoying that new book they picked up, or just to let you say hello to their canine friend because they know how much you love dogs. The local coffee shop where I’m writing this, my haven when I need to escape and think, is also a space that hosts a science fiction/fantasy book club and partners with us for author talks. Neighbouring businesses that you can bounce ideas off or that listen to you lament when something didn’t go quite the way you expected. The list can go on forever; so many people have contributed to the building of this bookstore.
I don’t know how it happened really. The only conclusion that I can come to is that books and bookstores simply create community. While I can certainly take credit as the person with the idea, and possibly as the lynchpin that holds it all together, I haven’t done this on my own. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with so many amazing people, both locally in Hamilton and across Canada. Book people really are the best. To take my love of reading and create something fun and vibrant that hopefully inspires others is fulfilling. So yes, opening Epic Books was my dream, but I happily share it because as it turns out it really does take a village, or rather a community, full of book loving people.
Jaime Krakowski is the owner of Epic Books in Hamilton, Ontario.