A slim Kindle is great for your travel bag, but even the most high-tech one cannot replace the faint vanilla scent that an old sepia-coloured book gives off, does it?
That’s what the Coquitlam-based couple John and Catherine Hughes thought as well when they decided to open a used book and record store, Groove Cat Books and Records, (Groove Cats because “we love cats and we like the idea of all things hip, groovy and cool”) on New West’s Sixth Street.
Starting an independent bookstore in the age of online retail behemoths like Amazon was “terrifying,” said John.
“You have to be really sure that it’s what you want to do, and you’ve got to be brave,” he said.
Besides that, there should be a business plan that works, the necessary money, and the organization behind all of that, before making the move, he noted.
Between the two of them, they were able to pull it off.
“All my favourite writers and musicians, I think, though long dead, would probably approve of this kind of an analog in person/real community kind of setting to something where you could just click away and you've got a book or a record… It [the former] just seems more alive, real, organic,” said John, whose favourite authors are Fyodor Dostoevsky and Ernest Hemingway, and musicians, Sex Pistols and Rolling Stones.
When they opened the store to the public on Saturday, Oct. 22, the response was “overwhelmingly positive,” said John.
Despite the minimal marketing — all they had was a sandwich board on the street, and a post on social media about the opening — the place was teeming with people by Sunday, he added.
The couple is all-in; after all, the store is an extension of their two personal interests: books and music.
From teaching at a university to running a book shop
For John, especially, the store is a culmination of all the jobs that he had previously done — he worked as a bicycle courier, a reporter for CBC and NPR (National Public Radio), as well as a university instructor. He taught the course ‘Cultural production of popular music’ at Simon Fraser University for a couple years, and still teaches at the Alexander College in Burnaby.
“I put all those things together and it just seemed like a natural kind of fit. This is probably the most fun I've ever had at work,” said John, who is an author himself.
“It's been a decades-long process of figuring out, almost by accident, that this is what I wanted to do, and accumulating expertise in books and music along the way," he added.
"So I'm able to talk the talk about music if people are interested in doing that. If not, I just kind of back away and let them make a decision [of buying a book or a record].”
While his wife, Catherine's (aka Cat) strength is curating the collection, identifying places where specific books could be sourced from, and cataloguing them on their sales system, John loves interacting with customers. “I spent 15 years in university, and I’ve a number of things that I can sort of discuss at the university level.”
He will bring this expertise with him to the store’s chat sessions that are planned in the following months.
As an example, John said, for Valentine's Day, the chat session could include discussions around Plato's The Symposium, the ancient Indian text Kama Sutra, and the Roman saint, Saint Valentine.
But nothing is set in stone; the couple is still gauging what the local interest is. “We're very interested to hear what the community wants to hear about,” he said.
“We are listening... We’re really hoping that we can become a community hub.”
The store's grand opening at 775 Sixth St. is set to happen this Saturday, Oct. 29. And since it's a couple of days from Halloween, they are offering 30 per cent off on all scary books, and a special treat to all customers who show up on the day.