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Regina’s first general-interest indie bookstore in a decade welcomed by local literary enthusiasts

Regina’s first general-interest indie bookstore in a decade welcomed by local literary enthusiasts

Owner Annabel Townsend (left) and bookseller and poet Nicole Aldred

Annabel Townsend felt excited about the opening of her new store, The Penny University Bookstore. Housed in a charming mid-century storefront, Indie opened in Regina on September 12, marking the first time in a decade that the Prairie city has had an independent general interest bookstore. It joins antiquarian bookstore Spafford Books, used bookstore Centennial Books, metaphysical and spiritual bookstore Aware House Books, Christian bookstores Burns-Hanley and Pass the Word, and alternative bookstore Turn the Tide.

On opening day, the store was filled to capacity limited by COVID-19, and the city’s literary set brought together local authors and nonfiction. Townsend, who is also the author of the memoir It seemed like a good idea at the time: 10 years of coffee woes (Pottersfield Press), talked to Q&Q about her new venture.

How would you describe the look of the space?
Well, Regina is a strange place. There seem to be a lot of strange buildings, but you have to know where they are. This place used to be a printing house. When I first found the building it was full of old copiers and you could barely get in the door. It slowly transformed. I still have an old paper cutter and a binder that is so heavy I can’t move it. At some point I’ll turn it into stacked shelves.

What inspired you to bring an independent bookstore to Regina?
I happened to buy a small bookstore. I was having coffee at the Centennial Market in Regina and met a couple making cheap books. I ended up buying it from them and doing books and coffee up there. I had 81 square meters of space, so I quickly outgrew it and decided to take the plunge and build my own proper brick and mortar store. I signed the lease and then the pandemic hit, so I’ve been sitting on all those books for the last six months.

What was it like to open a business that you couldn’t run because of the pandemic?
I “turned it around”, I believe that’s a business term, right? I literally signed the lease for the building on March 11, and then on the 13th they declared a pandemic. I have amazing timing. Fortunately, the landlady was very understanding and did not charge me rent for those six months.

I thought a good way to get people interested in the venture would be to start sending out the books I had already ordered. I did these “books and beans” subscriptions. People told me what things they liked to read and I packed them a bag of coffee beans and sent them every month. It was nice to curate things that people would like. Especially in April, we had a lot of isolation in Saskatchewan, and people were sitting at home and reading.

When you did themed book and coffee packages, how did you find out about it?
There was a Facebook group called I Support Local Business Regina. And for these things I did all the deliveries. I noticed that the neighbors seemed to talk to each other, as I would deliver one item to a certain area and then get another order from someone on the same street. I wouldn’t be able to pay the rent downtown with it, but it sure kept me busy enough during the summer.

What were the themes around which you organized those packages?
I had a box on the website that said, “What do you like to read?” Some people just said fiction, which didn’t give me much to work with. Some people were hyper-specific. The weirdest thing I got was someone bought a present for his wife, who studies 19th century commerce, and did I have a book about it? Another wanted a history of Canadian theater and playwriting. Some of them I really had to dig to find something suitable.

What kind of local content do you have?
[Coteau Books] failed just before the outbreak of the pandemic. The trustees said they were selling their old stock and I was able to pick up a lot of their titles at auction. You had to buy them in a box, so I have 50 copies of the same thing.

Several people came up and asked, “Will you sell my book?” At the risk of being completely overwhelmed by trying to figure out individual royalties for individuals, instead of taking shipping fees to books, I rent shelves to people and they pay me monthly for the shelf and keep 100 percent of their sales. I have completed 12 out of 16 so far.

What specific local titles would you recommend?
I have a children’s book called Hambone: Why do pigs have curly tails. The author is Jackie Armason, she published her first book at the age of 87. She’s in a nursing home from here. She comes to sign some copies.

Penny University Bookstore will post details of upcoming events on its website.

September 21: This post has been updated to include Regina’s independent specialty bookstores.

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