Black Bond Books president Cathy Jesson has many fond memories from the annual TED conferences in Vancouver.
For the past nine years, her company has been setting up a pop-up store at the Vancouver Convention Centre as TED’s official on-site bookseller. The Black Bond Books staff not only get to watch the lectures on-screen for free in real time but they’ve also served some famous visitors.
One year, Jesson recalled, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos dropped by. Another year, Monica Lewinsky came to the counter with a stack of books.
“She was just the nicest, nicest person,” Jesson told the Straight by phone a few days after this year’s conference. “Her talk the next day was really, really good.”
At this month’s TED conference, her company sold an Annie Leibovitz book of photographs for $8,000 and a book of David Hockney’s art for $4,500. She didn’t disclose the buyers’ identities.
“So many of these people [at the conference] are in tech but, boy, they buy a bunch of books,” Jesson said.
In 1963, Jesson’s mother launched Black Bond Books in Brandon, Manitoba, and opened her first B.C. store in White Rock in 1977. Jesson and her siblings followed her to B.C. as the family opened more outlets in the Fraser Valley.
The company now owns six bookstores in the Lower Mainland, including the Book Warehouse outlets on West Broadway and Main Street in Vancouver.
Jesson revealed that she was only 13 years old when she started working in her mother’s bookstore because she disliked babysitting. Recently, Jesson took on a new partner in the company—her adult daughter Caitlin, who runs the Book Warehouse store on West Broadway.
Jesson said that there are many other women who head independent bookstores across the country.
On Saturday (April 30), Black Bond Books and Book Warehouse will celebrate the second annual Canadian Independent Bookstore Day along with Kidsbooks, Banyen Books, Indigenous-owned Iron Dog Books, and hundreds of other retailers across the country.
According to the Canadian Independent Booksellers Association (CIBA), participants will be offering customer giveaways and discounts. Anyone who buys a book from a Canadian independent bookstore on that day will be eligible for one entry in a contest offering gift certificates of $250, $500, and $1,000. Those who buy books written or illustrated by Canadian creators will receive two entries. The winners will be selected on May 2.
“Customers came out and supported us last year,” Jesson recalled. “I think we’re back bigger and better this year.”
Jesson is a CIBA cofounder and board member. According to her, the retail book business has held up remarkably well during the pandemic.
“We didn’t know whether our customers would continue to support us or if they would go the easy route, which is just to click and collect,” Jesson said. “They’ve supported us in amazing numbers.”
In fact, she added, last year was one of the strongest years on record for Black Bond Books.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a customer come in and say, ‘I don’t think you’ll have this but…’ and the number of times we do,” Jesson noted. “Just because you’re smaller doesn’t mean you don’t have the selection. It’s maybe just a little more curated.”