Used bookstores connect with their communities by hosting events

Book clubs, movie nights, writing groups among activities run by local shops

Live music at the Great Escape secondhand bookstore
The Great Escape on Kingston Road has hosted live music to engage the community. (Photo courtesy Katya Nosko/The Great Escape) 

As the book industry continues to struggle, secondhand bookstores are responding with events to engage their communities.

From weekly book clubs to markets, many bookstores are taking part in or creating events to generate business and captivate their neighbourhoods.

“It’s really about the establishing of trust with your community that you’re doing things that you’ve curated, that is beneficial for them, and that is going to make them think or be happy or be moved and touched,” said Katya Nosko, owner of The Great Escape on Kingston Road in the Upper Beaches area.

The Great Escape in the Upper Beaches area hosts an unconventional book and movie club. (Mackenzie Heidrick/Toronto Observer)

The Great Escape on Kingston Road used to put on concerts in its back shed to help local artists and share their music. But now it holds an an unusual book that helps both their business and the Fox Theatre on Queen Street East.

“Another way to encourage interaction with the community is through having a book club,” Nosko said. “So I decided that if I was going to do it, I wanted to do it slightly differently than others. I wanted to do a book that is on its own a great piece of art, and then had been translated into film.”

Members read a book, discuss it, and go to the Fox Theatre to watch the book brought to life on the big screen. This happens once a year because it requires a lot of planning, including making custom posters for the books, Nosko said.

The Great Escape has its book club posters displayed above the bookshelves. (Mackenzie Heidrick/Toronto Observer)

Genevieve Clovis, owner of Cliffside Village Books on Kingston Road in Scarborough, created a writers’ group after she noticed many of her customers wanted to be able to write regularly but did not know how to get back into it.

In the group, she gives the writers a prompt and allow them 20 minutes to write a story about it, followed by a discussion.

She then created an accountability group for those who are working on bigger projects like memoirs or novels. This group would allow the members to hold themselves accountable for the number of chapters they have to write by a certain date.

Clovis also started running a Maker’s Market where local artists could display their art for people in the area to view and purchase. After two years of putting on the market, Cliffside Village Books partnered with four other small businesses on Kingston Road to create a bigger version of this project. They all hosted artists and recommended people to each other’s stores. She has now run this market for four years, gaining traction from social media.

“Social media is incredibly beneficial because that’s how people know that your events are going on,” Clovis said. “As much as I do put posters up in the store — and you know, there’s a lot of word of mouth that goes on — social media is sort of the place that people go to.”

Nosko puts together a window display to engage pedestrians walking past her shop. Her latest one is mice at home, which she said she wanted to do instead of a traditional holiday theme due to the current climate of the world. She mentioned that everyone wants to be home but not everyone is merry at the moment, especially when people are away from their homes.

The window display seen from the inside at the Great Escape on Kingston Road. (Mackenzie Heidrick/Toronto Observer)

They have also done book fairs to support The Children’s Book Bank, a charity that provides free books and support to children in Toronto.

“There’s a lovely person in the neighbourhood, Christina Merchant, who for two years in a row now wanted to do a large-scale donation to The Children’s Book Bank,” Nosko said. “She asked us to partner with her and she encouraged people through social media. People that she knew would come to the store, purchase books, and then she would match the price … as a donation herself.”

A recent article, “The Importance of Community,” in Psychology Today, notes that being part of a community gives the people in it a sense of belonging. Having events that everyone can participate in connects them with each other and something larger than themselves. This can provide a sense of purpose for the people involved.

This is borne out by the experiences of local bookshops.  

“I think one of the really beautiful things about book communities is that they’re very inclusive,” Clovis said. “You know, people love to talk about books, and it doesn’t matter if you are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum in every other aspect of your life and all of your views. There’s always a common ground to be found through books.”

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Posted: Dec 14 2023 10:04 pm
Filed under: Arts & Life Business News Things to do