As a self-proclaimed book lover from the age of four, working at a bookstore has always been my dream job.
While I achieved that aspiration twice — initially working at Chapters in high school and then at a local bookstore, Novel Idea, as of a year ago — one experience destroyed my romantic notions about the industry, while the other reaffirmed them.
When I think of my favorite things about bookstores, my first thoughts are a cozy atmosphere, a unique and diverse collection of literature and a staff that’s both quirky and insightful in their recommendations.
Chapters didn’t provide any of those things. Instead of creating a warm and comfortable environment for readers, it opts for the same methods as other corporate retail branches — a barrage of loud music, promotions and ‘bestseller’ tables.
While staff members can make their own recommendations, priority is always placed on plugging the big names and a pre-existing book list sent down from head office.
And while Chapters and other Indigo stores are usually enormous, their selection rarely varies, making the likelihood of finding something unique incredibly low.
Considering these limitations, it’s no surprise that the experience of working at Chapters left me disappointed. However, once I came to Kingston and found Novel Idea, I was reminded of what attracted me to working at bookstores in the first place — being a part of a literary community.
Unlike a corporate chain, Novel Idea doesn’t rely on lists or big names. Instead, it depends on the long-standing expertise and experience of the store owner, Oscar Malan.
Novel Idea and other local businesses offer something that corporate chains like Chapters never could — staff who are able to be themselves, offering their individual recommendations without hesitation and an eclectic array of books in numerous genres.
What companies like Indigo lack is the main component of what makes local businesses so inviting and treasured — that is, placing the community and the literature above the profits.
And while corporate chains may be around for the long haul, it’s the local businesses we should be supporting because they’re the ones who care.
They’re the ones allowing us to discover something new, build connections and get involved in a community.
Anastasiya is one of The Journal’s Copy Editors. She’s doing her PhD in environmental history.
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