Friday, June 9, 2023

Beyond The Bookstore: Westside Stories

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 Lynn Barlow of Westside Stories. Located at 852 King St. W., the store specializes in vintage, hard-to-find, and out-of-print books. With over 72 different categories of books, there is certain to be something for everyone.

Paige: How long have you owned and managed Westside Stories?

Lynn: I’ve just come into my ninth year of owning the store – I managed the store from 2001 till purchasing it in 2015. Having been a ‘bookie’ all my life I always dreamed of having my own store one day.

Paige: What does a day in the life at Westside Stories look like for you?

Lynn: Day-to-day life is never the same. There is always a different customer with a different request, a different book to search for, and [there are] many books coming in daily and sometimes there can be a really exciting find of an unusual or hard-to-find book.

There is a lot of work to do – shelves need to be restocked, cleaned, organized and tidied so they look inviting, [and] all books have to be cleaned and priced before shelving.

You can be on your feet for almost the whole day, running around the store and up and down the stairs. Those days can be extremely tiring but satisfying. We also ship all over the world, so orders have to be completed and shipping done, which means more emails and telephone calls too.

Paige: What is your favourite part about running the store?

Lynn: I love 99% of it – the admin can drive me mad since it takes me away from the books and the people, but I try to build it into my daily routine. I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing the store organized, clean and welcoming, and being able to assist customers with their requests. It’s lovely to see their smiling faces when they find a gem!

The other part I enjoy is being able to hold pieces of history. Some of the antique, vintage, and rare books we are able to purchase have been a joy to see and hold. Some are signed by the authors, and to know you are holding a book that was in their hands can be quite awe-inspiring.

Paige: Why do you think independent bookstores are important to Hamilton?

Lynn: As an owner of an independent bookstore, with over 40,000 used books, who has been in the trade for over 20 years, I have witnessed numerous stores closing, just disappearing … not because there is a decline in the sale of books but because the owner has been in business, in some cases, well into their 70s and 80s and ill health or retirement has [prompted] the closure.

The current trend for ordering online has meant there is a mistrust [of] the sustainability of a storefront business so therefore, existing bookstore businesses were not being purchased.

From my viewpoint, bookstores, both used and new, are an essential part of a community.

My store is busy with customers from all generations – from toddlers to people well into their 90s and I am constantly acquiring new customers who are so glad we are here and available for them to browse and choose their next ‘adventure’.

Bookshops are not on their way out; we still have a network of shops throughout the area who all work together to provide quality reading to all ages and for all reading abilities.

Paige: Do you have a Westside Stories memory that sticks out over the years?

Lynn: There are so many it is difficult to choose.

Between the characters that come into the store, the unusual books I get to sell, and the requests I get for titles I have to decipher, there is always a smile or a wonder that I will eventually be able to write my own book … now there’s another story!”

Paige: What are some of your favourite books?

Lynn: My favourite book? The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley and Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. Having said that, I was brought up on the classics, so it is a very difficult choice for me. Contemporary, I would say Andrew Davidson’s The Gargoyle, a brilliant read!

Paige Petrovsky
Paige Petrovsky
Paige Petrovsky is a Hamilton-based storyteller. When she’s not working at the Mohawk Students’ Association, she dedicates her time to her small business, Preserve Your Words, writing blog posts, and reading. When she’s not reading or writing, however, you can likely find her watching one of the Harry Potter movies.

Related Articles

Stay Connected

- Advertisement -

Latest Articles