Vancouverites owe a debt of gratitude to Book Warehouse for enriching our city
Sharman King has always been my favourite book retailer in Vancouver.
The CEO of the Book Warehouse first caught my attention with his snappy TV commercials in the 1980s, where he would invariably be carrying his trombone.
In those days, I was a regular visitor to his store on Robson Street because I was a student and the prices were so damn good.
King and his staff managed to source books on a breathtaking array of topics that couldn't be found on any other store shelves in the city.
In those days, Duthie Books was the establishment's favourite store, with all the important titles in various locations. Granville Books had its charms, thanks in part to its frizzy-haired proprietor, Bob Cole, and its vast selection of magazines. And Banyen Books was then a powerhouse on West Broadway, filling a demand for spiritual growth and self-help books in the city. Banyen still exists on West 4th Avenue near Alma Street.
The Book Warehouse was everyman's store, with a particularly strong nonfiction section. It carried books from authors ranging from Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader to more mainstream writers like Thomas L. Friedman and Peter C. Newman. And did I mention those prices?
I stumbled across some of my all-time favourites in Sharman's stores, including Craig Unger's dazzling House of Bush, House of Saud and Ron Rosenbaum's spectacular Explaining Hitler.
Rarely did I go into a Book Warehouse looking for a specific title. Usually, I just browsed before coming across something that I was unable to leave the store without. These books could be about anything—music, history, psychology, the natural environment, or international trade.
Later in the 1990s when I moved to Kitsilano, his big old store on West 4th Avenue became a regular distraction for me. It was a wide-open, glorious outlet with so much room in the aisles. And it had a great selection of coffee-table books, perhaps because it was so roomy.
I also spent time in the Duthie Books outlet down the street. It was always so perfectly laid out and organized. But there was something about the Book Warehouse's less structured approach that always appealed to me. It invariably had the capacity to surprise.
For the first few years of this century, I spent a lot of time in North Vancouver, where I would regularly drop into the Book Warehouse at Londsdale near 15th Avenue. All the newest hardcovers would be laid out like candy just inside the front door near the free newspapers. A few feet away was a bin full of bargains. But the best surprises, in my mind, were always closer to the back.
The flagship store in recent years was at 632 West Broadway, not too far from a new Canada Line station. Over the years, Sharman also had bookstores in the lower part of Granville Street, in Yaletown, on Davie Street, and on West 10th Avenue near UBC.
Book Warehouse was one of those companies that gave this city its soul. It was never pretentious. It just provided me with an incredible education at an affordable price.
I'm not alone. Today, Sharman issued a statement saying that Book Warehouse sold more than 10 million books since it opened in 1980.
Think about that: 10 million books. How much have people in this city learned about history and politics? How much fiction have they enjoyed? And how much more aware are they of our environment, thanks to Sharman and his staff?
In all the years that I've been visiting Book Warehouse stores, I can't recall ever once been treated badly or dismissively by any of the employees.
And now, it's all coming to an end. Sharman has announced that his leases are expiring and this cherished book retailer in Vancouver will be no more.
"Bookselling in Canada can be a difficult proposition at the best of times, and discount bookselling adds even more difficulty," Sharman said in a statement today. "We were successful for so many years because of our incredible staff, and they have been extremely loyal through the difficult decision to close. A business is nothing more than its customers and staff, and we have been blessed with the loyalty of both."
The other owners of the store, like Sharman, were musicians. They were great supporters of Vancouver Opera, the Cultch, Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver Playhouse, Bard on the Beach, Vancouver International Film Festival, Music Festival Vancouver, and numerous other cultural organizations.
"We're really going to miss working with these groups—they define our community," he said.
Memo to Sharman: you and your staff also helped define our community, and you will be dearly missed.
Book Warehouse has started a closing sale today at the Lonsdale, West Broadway, 10th Avenue, and Davie Street stores, and it will continue for a few weeks. This morning as I absorbed the news, I felt like I was just about to lose a dear friend. I'm sure I'm not alone with that sentiment.