Monday, December 4, 2023

Beyond the Bookstore: City and the City Books

From gritLIT to bookcrawl, Hamilton is a city of writers and readers. Supporting this effort are numerous publishers and independent bookstores, all of which call our city home. Like the contents found within, each bookstore has its own story, and regardless of which one you pop into, you’re bound to find something unique.

Join Paige Petrovksy as she explores each of Hamilton’s independent bookstores to learn what makes it special in this Q&A series.

For the latest article in the series, Paige ventured to The City & The City Books to chat with owners Tim and Janet. This book-lover’s haven opened in 2019 and is located at 181 Ottawa St., N. – right in the heart of HamOnt’s beloved Ottawa Street neighbourhood!

Paige: How have things been going since you’ve opened?

Janet: It’s kind of a tough question. We were open and trying to find our feet and then in a pandemic after less than a year of being opened. The pandemic, you know, it was great for bookstores. And for our bookstore, we got to know people. I mean, if you’re doing curbside, people haven’t talked to other people except for, you know, maybe their partner or their family. So, when you’re at the door, or giving someone a book, all of a sudden, you’re into a long conversation. It was good for business, good for meeting people and getting known in the neighborhood. And then it ended.

Tim: Yeah, lifestyles have changed. When people were working from home, they’d take a lunch break, take a walk in the neighborhood and go by a local shop. And then people went back to work. I hate to say we’ve got a slight bit of COVID nostalgia, the days where it’s like, you know, shop local, read books, everyone was into it. And then now [people are] just stressed out and freaked.

Paige: How would you describe the layout of the store? How did you decide on the setup?

Janet: Well, I find it a weird layout because there are like pipes in the middle. But what we did was because we’re new and used, we decided that maybe a little more than half would be new. And then we did color coding. So, all our new books are on white shelves, and everything used is on black shelves.

Paige: Can you talk a little bit about some of the events you run?

Janet: We’ve got one that we run monthly at Jordan’s Pub called The Way Out East Reading Series that we do the second Wednesday of every month – we took the summer off. And then when we have events here at the store, and I run a book club that I host at The Hearty Hooligan. It [the book] is always 15% off. If you buy the book, that does not mean that you have to show up. No, it’s just sort of the book that we’re highlighting but people who want to come, you go. I always buy cupcakes for everyone, so you know, have a drink and discuss books for an hour.

Tim: We’re also really trying to pull [writers] in [from outside Hamilton], and it’s working. We’re getting writers from Toronto, Montreal, Halifax.

Paige: How would you describe the Hamilton book community in general?

Janet: We’re all really good with each other. It’s also good because we’re all so spread out throughout the city. So, it works out well. And we’re all on the same database, as well. It’s good, especially during Christmas, when you know, people are panicking and someone comes in and says, I need the Love and Let Die and it’s like we’re out but Epic or King West has it.

Tim: We all got a different identity. We all have different strengths [in selection], so that’s good too.

Paige: What are some of your favourite books?

Janet: Well, we named our store after China Miéville. Yeah, because we thought that was kind of fitting – an author that we love, book that we loved, and we thought it was kind of fitting for Hamilton. I would say one of my favorites, she wrote one of my favorite books this year, is Catherine Lacey. I’ve read her last couple of books and each one has impressed me more and more. Babbitt [by Sinclair Lewis] would be out there.

Tim: I personally, I like a lot of stuff written like Alan Moore, David Keenan – the ones that kind of mix genres.

Janet: Even in the area, there are so many great writers.

Tim: Amy Jones, Andrew Sullivan, Gary Barwin, Fareh Malik – he’s a breath of fresh air.

Paige: How did the idea for your podcast come up?

Janet: It was my idea, I’d been wanting to do a podcast for years. And so, kind of kicked around a few ideas. And then came up with the new and used idea – what’s a recent book and one that we might have forgotten. And then it was like, well, let’s bring in authors too. We’ve kind of gone through a few reiterations, because first it was, we’ll have the author on and maybe talk for a couple of minutes about their book. And then they can bring in a book that they want to discuss. And then we brought in Tim’s cousin in Australia, and it was just getting out of hand. So, now one of us will interview an author, one of us will talk about a new book, and one of us will talk about and older book. Hopefully in the fall, things calm down, and we’ll get into [the podcast again].

Paige Petrovsky
Paige Petrovsky
Paige Petrovsky is a Hamilton-based storyteller. She is the owner of Preserve Your Words - a biography writing service, and a writer for several online publications. When she’s not working , you can find Paige blogging, reading, or often watching one of the Harry Potter movies.

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