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.
This month, Paige connects with Julie Gordon of J.H. Gordon Books. Owning a bookshop was always a dream for Gordon, and after moving to Hamilton from Calgary in 2012, that dream became a reality.
J.H. Gordon Books has been a staple in the city ever since, providing a cozy sanctuary for shop-goers looking to escape the hustle and bustle of King Street. With filled shelves, stunning photographs throughout, and calming music, J.H. Gordon Books is what booklover dreams are made of.
Paige: What made you want to open the store?
Julie: I was meeting lots of entrepreneurs who were opening small businesses (this was back when Hamilton real estate was still affordable) and I was inspired by the idea that you could take chances in Hamilton. When this building on King Street came up for sale, it had everything we wanted so my husband and I jumped on it. We renovated the apartment and the shop, moved in upstairs and the rest is history.
Paige: How was the name chosen?
Julie: I named the store after myself! I am J.H. Gordon. I wanted the bookshop to sound like it had been here for a long time, and there is a tradition of naming bookshops after the proprietor (usually male booksellers). Here in Hamilton, we had the iconic Bryan Prince Books [closed in 2018], and there is the great Henry Sotheran in the UK (you can follow them on Twitter). Anyway, I wanted to lean into that tradition.
Paige: What has changed from 2012 to now?
Julie: Well, the shop has evolved, as used bookshops do. We now have a children’s room in the back of the shop, and more bookshelves have sprung up over the years, more art on the walls, more knick-knacks everywhere (my lovely customers are always gifting me things to add to our collection) and of course more books!
Paige: What is the most popular genre or type of book you sell?
Julie: Well, because we sell used books, we get people looking for all sorts of things. But, the areas that get the most attention are philosophy, theology, sociology, history (particular Greek, Roman, Medieval, and, lately, Russian). In fiction, classics are definitely the most popular, particularly the 19th and early 20th centuries. Curiously, since the pandemic Agatha Christie has been flying off the shelves, I can’t keep her in stock.
Paige: What are some of your favourite books personally?
Julie: This is always a hard one for me. I like a lot of books so it’s hard pick favourites. I do, however, have a lingering affection for Canadian novels of the 1970s and 80s. In particular, the novels of Robertson Davies, Timothy Findley, and the largely forgotten Constance Beresford-Howe.
Paige: Why do you think independent bookstores are important to Hamilton?
Julie: I think independent bookstores are important everywhere. If we only buy books from giant chain retailers, I think we run the risk of developing a very homogenous reading culture, where everyone is reading the same books. Independent bookshops are carefully curated by the people who work there and love books so you’re always going to get a more interesting and diverse selection of titles than you will with a big retailer, where the books are chosen by a mindless algorithm or a central purchasing department that is only interested in improving the bottom line.
Paige: How do you decide what goes on Instagram?
Julie: I mostly alternate between posting pretty photos of the shop (who doesn’t like a nice bookshop photo?) and featuring the most recent acquisitions. I like it when I get a big stack of books on a single subject, I will always post stuff like that. I also post themed book reels depending on the time of year – horror around Halloween, Irish writers on St. Patrick’s day, etc. I like a good, themed, book display – my window always has a theme.
You can follow J.H. Gordon Books @jhgordonbooks.
Paige: What is the most challenging and rewarding part of running the store?
Julie: I will only briefly mention money because there isn’t much, so that can be a bit stressful. Finding good stock for the store is always a challenge and I don’t have employees, so I have to do my book hunting on my days off; my husband usually accompanies me and he is a big help. Sometimes we will drive an hour to look at someone’s book collection and walk away with nothing, but other times we hit the jackpot, and that is always a thrill. As far as the day-to-day in the shop, the friendships I have formed with some of my regular customers is definitely the most rewarding part of the job.
Paige: What do you think makes J.H. Gordon Books unique?
Julie: I have a fear of overfilling my shop with dead stock that I can’t move so I have become quite particular about what I put on the shelves. As a result, I think I have a well curated collection that still offers a wide selection of subjects and genres.