Provenance the Web Magazine

ISSN 1203-8954 - Vol.2, No.1 - December 1996

A history of Blackberry Books - or -
"Back from the future -- 'a Bookseller's Journal' 2089"

Author & friend

Melissa Mathers
Contributing Writer to Provenance Web Magazine
Published for the first time in Provenance

Librarian's note to the reader:
This photograph found in Melissa Mathers' personal effects along with her journals, including the famous excerpt, is the only documentation left of the bookstore business called Blackberry Books which operated in the twentieth century. The photograph shows Melissa .... and her good friend Sylvia, standing in what use to be Blackberry Books, 2033 West Fourth Ave., in Vancouver. They both worked in this store and later went on to complete the Library Technician program at Langara College. Sylvia was instrumental in helping Melissa set up Vanberry Library in 2090 a.d. in Vananese. - July 7, 2099.

SEPT. 8, 2089 - The goddess Ianna has been resurrected, the world that 1 grew up In is now gone, and 1 don't have many regrets. 1 refuse to moan and groan over what we once had and replay with every lonesome traveler passing through Vananese, the great misfortunes of the "Mother of all Storms". How could we have been so consumed by the passions of what was once known as the Information age when our own planet was dying before our very eyes???

The planet, which has supported our presence for thousands of years, finally came to its senses and "woke up" with a bang. This bang, of course, caused the "great collapse of 2069", and wiped out technology as we knew it. 1 had a PC like everyone else In the early 21st century, but I was starting to feel really violated by those irritating librarian avatars who filled the screens of every home computer, acting as the WoridGov censor-kings and who became their eyes and ears.

My favorite hobby was checking out the bookstores around the world, v.r. style, and doing a bit of online shopping at the favorite pick of the week. It became very annoying to listen to the librarian Interrupt a sale and tell me that I already owned a extensive collection of books, 9 didn't need more, and the title "Snow Crash" by Neal Stephenson was not worthy of my status In society. 1 was tired of the system but was too afraid to protest.

The "bang" occurred and with it arose the earth, a sentient form, calling Itself Inanna after a Sumerian goddess. Inanna declared through plain old telepathy to all humans still alive, that the only concept needed for us to begin again, besides the essentials of bartering with your neighbours for basic needs of food, water and shelter, was the idea of a library. For most, the only concept of a library was the memory of those librarian watchdogs set in place in every computer system by the WorldGov. This was because libraries were declared obsolete in the year 2025 and libraries were shut down all over the world. For myself, this had to have been one of the saddest days of the 21st century, I took my favorite book, that day, and sat on the beach just looking at it for hours wondering what the hell was happening to the people of my world.

Although, one of the best days I had recently, was the discovery In my personal effects, of a paper that I had written for one of the library courses I was enrolled In during 1995 to 1997 in Vancouver which is now known as Vananese. (Just a few short years after my graduation from the Library Technician program, the World Federation of Bodyshops discovered an anti-aging serum, derived from tea tree oil, and began selling it on the black market for thousands of dollars. I was lucky, or not so lucky depending on how you think, to have come Into some money at that time and so I bought the serum and that is how I am now 120 years old and still going strong.)

This paper that I just discovered is a gem because It outlines the history of one of my favorite bookstores In Vancouver, and I actually worked in the stores for a couple of years before beginning my training in the library field. I am now trying to start a library and possibly a bookstore for the survivors left in Vananese. We have rebuilt so much but there is no joy. I still have my extensive book collection and I want to spread It around my community. So perhaps, dear ancestor or whomever is reading my journals, you will want to skip this part for fear it does not have anything to do with you or your interests, but I ask you to be patient and read this history and then be able to dream about bookstores in the 20th century.

Lucy and Dale Stewart have owned and operated Blackberry Books for sixteen years in Vancouver, BC, with much hard work and a great staff, they have managed to stay in business during a tagging economy. Their flag store is Blackberry Books at 1663 Duranleau Street on Granville Island and they have another location at 2855 West Broadway.

Lucy Stewart has had much success in running a bookstore business, and this is a result of many factors; great business sense, good credit and excellent staff as well as having the best location around town for her first store on Granville Island.

By the early 1920s, Granville Island had become an industrialized site after the False Creek mud flats were turned into an island by the federal government. The site would remain a point of contention among Vancouverites for many years as the industry on the island turned it into a:

"small oblong bit of land, rounded at both ends and as flat as a dime, rising from the greenish-grey water of False Creek... No tree, no shrubs, no flowers grace its surface, but buildings only, concrete and corrugated iron structures jammed together in seeming higgle-de-piggledy carelessness, as unbeautiful and unartistic as centres of industry can be." - Vancouver Sun, October 31,1936. (taken from Island in the Creek)

It was not until the 1970s when Granville Island began taking its present day shape and Lucy Stewart happened to be in the right place at the right time. The Granville Island store is located in a reconditioned warehouse, which use to hold the Kwik-Save grocery store.

The warehouse use to be called Building 41, designed by Vancouver architect Barbara Dalrimple. This same architect helped Lucy design her store and they went for the basic colour scheme which was already in place; industrial blue and the green. That green colour is synonymous with Blackberry Books today. Blackberry bookmark The space was approximately 700 sq. feet to begin with and Lucy has been proven right time and again that the location is the key in starting a business.

Lucy and Dale got married in 1971 and Lucy had already been working in the booksellers' community for some years, starting at Pick a Pocket Books in New Westminster. With her youngest child, Joseph, just 18 months old, Lucy went back to work for Classics bookstore in the Pacific Centre. She was given the manager's position and from here started work on her dream of owning her own bookstore. Her husband, Dale, was working as a systems analyst at the time and his background has provided the knowledge necessary to design computer programs for the bookstore.

It was September 1, 1979 that Lucy began working for herself and her store. This was a time when setting up a business of Lucy's type cost approximately $40,000 and obtaining a few small small business loans from the bank. It is here that Lucy stressed the idea of needing good credit and the best location in town. Lucy took a business night course and used her experience and contacts built up from her years of working in the bookselling business to set up her own.

The bookseller's community was much different then it is today. There weren't as many chains and so the community was much smaller and had a different feel. Book reps would occasionally help out in the store for Lucy, and it was a more of a friendly atmosphere.

Blackberry Books opened its doors to the public on November 30. 1979 and the first books to be sold were sold the night before during the opening party that the Stewarts gave. That first Christmas was a huge success and Lucy and Dale have never looked back. In the beginning, Lucy bought general bookstore backlist as inventory and from there eliminated or added as she developed a sense of her customer's tastes.

Three guiding rules she adhered to during this time were:

  • a good logo,
  • good advertising and
  • a good banker.

The staff consisted of Lucy working full time and Cath McGrath and one of Lucy's daughters both working part time. The store was open six days a week, nine to six with Thursday and Fridays staying open until nine at night, following the Public Market's schedule of closing on Mondays.

Lucy and Dale are both the directors and owners of Blackberry Books, Lucy being the president and Dale being the Secretary-Treasurer. Their business was incorporated on October 4, 1979.

In 1981, almost two years after the opening of the Granville Island store, the store hours changed to nine to nine seven days a week. There was the battle between the government and business owners about being open on Sundays for business. Lucy said that she never had any problems with that and it was a good thing because in terms of business, Sundays were the busiest then Saturdays.

The store was doing well and books were flying off the shelves. It was during this time that the Stewarts received a government grant to employ Cath McGrath, office manager who ran the head office out of the Stewarts' home. The head office relocated, after a few different sites, down to Granville Island early in 1995, and Cath is still doing the same great job.

The second Blackberry Book location was at 2033 West Fourth Avenue. Square footage was approximately 645 and the first manager was hired for the Fourth Ave store, Patty Laidley. The Fourth Ave store remained in business until the summer of 1994 when due to extenuating circumstances and Duthie Books across the street, Lucy decided to close that store.

The year of the Expo in 1986, Lucy and Dale decided to expand their store. The store layout took on a L-shape after expanding into Kwik-Save space. And it remains the same today, with some renovations here and there. That same year, after much research, the Stewarts decided to open a second Blackberry Books in the Sinclair Centre in downtown Vancouver.

The location was fraught with difficulties from the very beginning. The bookstore was the first retail space to have been reconverted from office space and construction was still ongoing when Blackberry Books opened.

Like all the store locations, Lucy thinks of them as her babies and so it was very difficult to know that business was not good at Sinclair Centre and that they needed another location. The Stewarts were glad to have included a walk-away clause in their contract at Sinclair Centre and by 1992 they moved out of that 1500 sq. feet space.

The other store location is on West Broadway near Macdonald. This store opened in June of 1992 and is still going strong. The store is approximately 1500 sq. feet. As of November 1995 there are two Blackberry Book locations on Granville Island and West Broadway.

In terms of the technical side of things, Lucy attempted to do accounts payable by herself in the beginning and found this to be awful. When the Granville Island store opened there was only one cash register and now there are two after the expansion in 1986. The stores employ close to 20 people now and need a computerized inventory but it is an expensive system to install so Dale has been writing the programs since 1989. The programs used are Canadian Telebook for placing orders and the Canadian Bibliodisc and Baker & Taylor programs for book queries by staff and customers.

Lucy and Date Stewart are seasoned small business owners in an industry that just doesn't make alot of money in general these days.

The two locations are going strong and attention to detail is invoked repeatedly. There are book signing events, author readings and the Writer's Festivals to attend to, advertising is a must; and for the consumer who is bombarded with advertising day after day, one has to be creative. I know that whatever format books will take in the future, I will be among those who favour the book in its original form, and that browsing through a bookstore on a rainy Vancouver afternoon is one of the best experiences I know.

Here ends my bookstore history and just a note to the readers, to be good to books and enjoy their worlds.

MELISSA MATHERS
(FORMER PATRON AND
OWNER of VANBERRRY
LIBRARY-July 7, 2099

WORKS CITED

Gourley, Catherine. Island in the Creek: the Granville Island Story. Madeira park: Harbour Publishing, 1988.

Interviews were comducted with Lucy Stewart, Dale Stewart and Cath McGrath in November 1995.

Copyright © 1996 Melissa Mathers


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