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This New West kids’ bookstore just had a growth spurt

Kinder Books at the River Market is now twice the size it was

Kinder Books, the kids’ bookstore at River Market, does not fit into its old crib anymore. 

After over two years of operating out of a rather compact store, owner Anne Uebbing is all set to spread out her collection of wooden toys, stuffed dolls, cloth totes, and a dizzying number of books — over 2,500 of them — across a larger floor space (at the same location).

Uebbing always wanted her bookstore to be a community hub where kids could attend art and reading workshops. 

“This was a lifelong dream,” she said. “And now it's taking real shape.”

Recently, the store expanded in area, and got a makeover — with new paint and flooring. “It feels like a real bookstore now. Before, it kind of looked like we might move out again. But nobody can ask me, ‘Is it a pop-up store?’ anymore.” 

The physical bookstore is only as old as COVID, though the business itself is entering its teen years.

Started in 2011, Uebbing ran it out of a mobile cart for almost a decade. 

“I used to put all the books in boxes, pack a fold-up table in a cart and set it up at teachers' conferences, artists and farmers markets all around the Lower Mainland,” she said. 

“I attended lots of conferences like the UBC (University of British Columbia) Apple Festival, the Fort Langley Cranberry Festival, New West Craft and artisan markets, among others. The most beautiful one was an art festival in the middle of Minnekhada Park (in Port Coquitlam). I pulled my cart in the middle of the forest and did a story time there.” 

But when COVID hit pause on all crowd-gathering events, Uebbing had to look for other avenues to keep her business afloat. Lucky for her, at the time, the River Market was offering “really cheap rents,” she said. 

Uebbing rented out the space and set up shop. 

Initially, she leased it out on a month-to-month basis, but now, 810 Quayside Dr. feels more like a permanent spot for Uebbing — “one that connects the dots with everyone that has anything to do with families and kids,” she said.

How it all began

Uebbing's love affair with books started from the time she could barely read. As a child, growing up in a small town of about 8,000 people in Germany, Uebbing recollects having exactly three bookstores and a library to hang out at. 

“Sometimes, I would go from bookstore to bookstore and visit all of them in one day, and spend my allowance there.”

As time went by, Uebbing got busy earning a degree in hotel management; while her bookstore dreams were put on the back-burner. That’s until she made the big move to North America in 1999, and found herself stuck without being able to work in the hotel industry as she lacked a work permit.

While some might see it as a negative turn of events, in hindsight, it was the best thing that happened to Uebbing as it finally pushed her closer to realizing her childhood dream — of starting a bookstore.

Coming from a family of teachers, she was inclined to take up a volunteering opportunity that would allow her to work with children. She joined a children’s museum in San Diego, where she designed programs and exhibitions. 

That experience cemented her next move: to become an early childhood educator. 

This, in turn, led her to curate children’s books that, well, helped educate children.

What really set things in motion was a €1,000 birthday cheque that came from her dad all the way from Germany, with the message — “Do something nice with it.” 

Uebbing knew exactly what to do. She set up her bookseller's license, starting off as an ambassador with Barefoot Books, an independent children’s book publisher. 

“As an ambassador, you buy books from them, and sell them. Then you buy some more.”

While Barefoot Books helped her get her foot in the door, eventually she found that "it was not enough for her.”  

She began approaching publishers and authors by herself to grow her business.

“I love books. But in the 12 years running the business, I learned that 'business' is the bigger part of it," she said.

On curating books

Even as she expanded her network and built on her collection, Uebbing made sure no book made its way to the shelf without her nod.

Reading every kid's book that came her way was her job, said Uebbing proudly. 

Of late, she noted, “there are more subjects covered in children’s books than ever before — be it those representing LGBTQ or BIPOC communites. It’s a big and surprisingly good change.” 

But though the children’s publishing industry seems to be flourishing, as an independent bookseller, for Uebbing, the biggest challenge is competing with the price points that bookstore chains and online platforms offer. “I cannot give big discounts because the profit margin for books is small.” 

“And I don't like to carry books like Peppa Pig that have some commercial background because I don't see the value in it, plus three other stores up the block have them. When people ask me to order them in, I will, but I will not put them on the table.” 

What you’ll see displayed instead are “special” books that are carefully chosen by Uebbing.

“For instance, when the war in Ukraine started, a lot of books came out. One book called War (written by Jose Jorge Letria and illustrated by André Letria) talks about what war feels like, looks like, sounds like — all presented in black illustrations. It’s very powerful.” 

“When something tragic like the war happens, books come out. And that is great because you need to explain this to your children somehow.”  

In times like these, books become more than just bound pages with words and pictures; Uebbing has always known that.

"I consider them partners... they are friends," she said.  

Kinder Books is located at 810 Quayside Dr.