There’s the books, but it is also all about community
Looking back on the pandemic years, Jason Purcell has a kind of calm appreciation for the chaos and stress they’ve experienced. As one of the co-founders of Edmonton-based independent bookstore Glass Bookshop, they spent much of the pandemic period adapting to meet the ever-changing demands of trying to keep a small business alive.
“In retrospect, things always work out the way that they ought to. It seems that’s true,” says Purcell. “But there were certainly bumps along the way.”
The ‘bumps’ Purcell is referring to could mean any number of challenges Glass Bookshop has overcome during the past few years: changes in location, changes in business model, even changes in ownership. But through it all, the shop has remained steadfast in its commitment to community. Now, at last, it has put down roots with a location in Richie.
Founded in 2018, Glass Bookshop is an independent bookstore focused on supporting emerging Canadian writers, with special attention paid to those in the 2SLGBTQIA and BIPOC communities. When it opened, Purcell says, the goal was more than just to sell books. It was to create a gathering place.
“We saw that there was a need in book selling and in gathering spaces in the city, so we were really invested in making space for folks who weren’t represented. Where do we gather and where do we go that is explicitly built for people like us or people who are marginalized in ways that are different than us? ” says Purcell.
“We needed an indie bookstore that serves all people.”
Over the years, Glass Bookshop has seen many iterations. At first, it operated through a series of pop-up shops in Edmonton’s downtown core. Eventually, it opened as a brick-and-mortar location in a downtown mall, but when the pandemic hit, the shop moved to largely online sales with home delivery, based out of a basement storage unit.
While the shift to online sales wasn’t what Purcell had envisioned when opening the shop as a community gathering space, the change still reinforced the importance of community.
“It was uncomfortable because it was underground, it was a small space, books all over, boxes everywhere. But it was also exciting because we were really well supported in that moment. ” they say.
“There was just such a real reinvestment in the local economy at that point. We really saw that, and we really felt that.”
The shift to home delivery also shone a light on other elements of inclusivity and accessibility in Glass Bookshop’s business model. It’s part of why the shop still offers free delivery to homes in the Edmonton area.
“I realized that there were all types of accessibility barriers in place when you expect people to come to you all the time,” says Purcell.
“There are very well likely to be people out there who are disabled or have mobility issues, or who can’t leave home for other reasons, who would rather support indie than Amazon, but didn’t have the choice before. So suddenly now they have the choice. That’s not something we want to turn our backs on.”
Eventually, as restrictions eased and people began moving towards in-person shopping again, Purcell returned to the idea of opening a brick-and-mortar location for the store. It was time for the next chapter: a long-term home.
“Glass Bookshop has been through so many transitions in terms of location, in terms of those who are running the show, everything,” says Purcell.
“It feels like we’ve never been on stable ground. We’ve never really had a foundation upon which to build. It’s always just sort of been survival mode. How do we survive this? How do we survive that? How do we survive the next thing?”
But after years of changes and adaptations, Glass Bookshop finally found solid ground, and a place to put down roots. Thanks to financing from SEF, the shop was able to secure a space in Ritchie, and has finally established itself as a community gathering place.
“We have become part of people’s daily lives, like 4:00 PM roles around, and people are like, a lot of them still seem to work from home, so they kind of trudge out of their houses and they do little browse, and you get to know these people in a really different way, which is so nice,” they say.
The shop continues to focus on Canadian authors, with a focus on the 2SLGBTQIA and BIPOC communities. Those commitments, says Purcell, will never change.
“I think there’s something really powerful and radical about there being a space from the very start is like, ‘Actually this is for queer people and racialized people and disabled people,’ and has those investments and those priorities in mind at every step of decision making and execution.”
As for the future of Glass Bookshop, Purcell is optimistic. They don’t have any plans for any more major changes to their business model. For now, it’s time to build on the foundation SEF helped them to establish.
“My hope is that this can be a period in which we are putting down roots and really just connecting with the neighborhood, building on those commitments to community and inclusivity.”