Two Vancouver businesses celebrate the tactile quirks of print
With new and used bookstores closing left and right, Straight readers might reasonably assume that print media is in terminal decline. But two Vancouver businesses are bucking the trend by appealing to the romance and the hands-on physicality of print.
The Regional Assembly of Text, at 3934 Main Street, was founded by Emily Carr grads Brandy Fedoruk and Rebecca Ann Dolen, and sells stationery and cards, among other things. “Everything we make, we either handmake or get printed locally and assemble here,” Fedoruk explains, on the phone with the Straight from her store. “We do a lot of screen-printing, and button-making, and card-making. We have a wholesale business as well—we sell our cards and designs to stores across Canada and the U.S. and overseas.”
The shop features a “lowercase reading room” filled with self-published books that curious parties are invited to come in and read. “Those aren’t for sale—just for people to come and sit and enjoy and be inspired by. But we do sell the books that Rebecca and I make,” by hand, with the help of a photocopier. Their 12 favourite titles are available via a subscription service, known as the Little Book Club. “It costs $60, and basically you get a little book in the mail once a month”—including charming-sounding titles like Dolen’s One Shrew Too Few, “which is a sad little book about a lonely shrew.”
One of the appeals of the Regional Assembly of Text is that Fedoruk and Dolen encourage a participatory attitude toward creativity among their clientele. In addition to a station where customers can make their own buttons, the shop hosts a free Letter Writing Club on the first Thursday of every month. “It’s been really popular,” Fedoruk says. “We clear out the store and put out all of our typewriters that are in working condition”—some 20 manual typewriters they’ve collected, which can get “quite loud” when people start clacking in symphony. “People just come and we have paper and envelopes and tea and cookies for them, and they grab some paper and start writing. Letter writing is such a special thing—it takes more time, and it includes all your mistakes and handmade touches.”
Encouragingly, the Regional Assembly of Text reports a “steady incline” in business over the years, which recently enabled them to open a second small shop in Victoria. “I think we’re seeing the return of specialty stores,” Fedoruk says. “And people who appreciate text will continue to appreciate it. Especially with books—people will always want to hold them and touch them. I don’t know if you can replace that with anything digital.”
Paper Hound cofounder Kim Koch has a similar enthusiasm for the physicality of print media. “We’re trying to present books as physical objects that are exciting in their own right,” she tells the Straight in her shop, at 344 West Pender Street—the newest addition to an area historically noted for its booksellers. “You see the image on the cover and you think, ‘That’s cool,’ and you get inside the book and you read the text, and that’s cool, and then you find some little scrap of paper from some bus ticket that the former owner had… There are layers of interest to books, and I think there’s a younger generation that is excited about that.”
Koch’s perspective is different from that of most booksellers. For instance, ex-library stamps, which, as Koch explains, have been “historically to the detriment of the book and the bookseller”, are given appreciative treatment on the Paper Hound’s Tumblr site (“In Praise of the Ex-Library,” at paperhound.tumblr.com/ ). Readers like “to feel that they’re part of a lineage of people that have interacted with this object. That’s why we’ve got the spinners”—that is, standing racks that you spin, such as might be used in a more mundane bookstore to display paperbacks, but which at the Paper Hound are filled with bookmarks and ephemera. “I’m calling them the Paper Hound Revolutionary Gallery of Lost-in-a-Good-Book,” she says, laughing. ”It’s just stuff that we’ve found tucked between pages of books over the years. A lot of it is old bookmarks, which give a really cool bookselling history of Vancouver. But we’ve also got two albums of photographs we’ve found.”
There are also, of course, the books. In addition to the Diagram Prize–nominated title Knitting With Dog Hair and curiosities like Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes, there is a carefully picked selection of new and local books, and numerous oddball antiquarian items chosen for their romantic appeal, such as “a very neat slipcased book on the lore of the sea,” Koch says. “It’s got everything you need to know if you don’t know anything about navigation and you’re stuck on a raft. It’s from 1950, and it’s got star charts, it’s got what you eat, it’s got information on how you can tell how close you are to land by what kinds of birds are circling overhead. It’s a lovely book.”
Koch and Paper Hound co-owner Rod Clarke—who worked with Koch at MacLeod’s prior to their current venture—admit to being nervous about their new business. “We know books are dying, but we don’t have a lot of other options,” Koch says. “I put out 85 résumés after leaving MacLeod’s” in August 2012. “I’ve got a university degree, and I speak a few languages, and I have a really good employment record, but I didn’t get a single callback for any job I applied for! The kicker was when some librarian was giving me friendly advice, and she said, ‘Look, dear, to work as a page in a library, you have to show that you have customer-service experience, and we just don’t look at antiquarian bookselling as providing that.…It would look great if you could show that you’d worked at a Starbucks or something!’ ”
Koch rolls her eyes, smiles, and calms herself. “I’m not a bootstraps person by nature, but this is a logical extension of me and Rod’s ambitions. People keep saying, ‘What made you decide to do this?’ But it’s like, what else are me and Rod going to do? We’re career booksellers!”
Oct 25, 2013 at 12:01pm
Paper Hound is a wonderful new bookstore, and as an old paperphile, ephemera collector and nonstop reader I hope Rod Clarke's and Kim Koch's store is a crazy success for them and everyone else who loves print on paper.
Oct 28, 2013 at 4:23pm
What I like about print is the inability of censors to ninja edit them like they can ebooks. Last 2 ebooks I bought had been tampered with and contained questionable revisions forcing me to buy the orig hard copies
Nov 19, 2013 at 6:29pm
Kim and Rod are the best.