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Every-body needs a hob-by. Mine is book-selling.

In the ear-ly 1990s, I was encour-aged to vol-un-teer as a mem-ber of the board of direc-tors of the People’s Co-oper-a-tive Book-store Asso-ci-a-tion, the co-oper-a-tive that has run the People’s Co-op Book-store since its estab-lish-ment in 1945. This would have been around 1991 or 1992; I served two one-year terms as a mem-ber-at-large. I have some regrests that I did not pay as close atten-tion as I might have, being some-what pre-occu-pied by the demands of New Star Books, the pub-lish-ing house that I had recent-ly become pro-pri-etor of.  Still, join-ing the People’s Co-op board was one of the smartest moves I ever made. Thus began my real edu-ca-tion in pub-lish-ing.

A recap of the store’s his-to-ry would be use-ful here. It was estab-lished at the end of World War II by a coali-tion of social-ist-mind-ed intel-lec-tu-als. Found-ing mem-bers includ-ed Lenin-ist mem-bers of the Com-mu-nist Par-ty of Cana-da, but also social democ-rats, rank-and-file trade union-ists, com-mu-ni-ty orga-niz-ers and faith-based pro-gres-sives. It was in fact one of the very few book-shops in a town where the book trade was dom-i-nat-ed by the depart-ment stores (the “chains” of their own day). Up the street from where tthe Co-op set up shop was the ven-er-a-ble Pen-der Sta-tionery & Books, and there was Ire-land & Allan, a stuffy and ven-er-a-ble insti-tu-tion on Granville Street that was itself not much longer for the world. The People’s Co-op Book-store was orga-nized along the same prin-ci-ples as many oth-er co-oper-a-tive enter-pris-es in the mid-dle of the last cen-tu-ry: the wheat pools, cred-it unions, dry goods stores, gas sta-tions,  and the like that were spring-ing up under the “co-op” ban-ner around this time.

From 1945 to 1982, the book-store was locat-ed at a series of down-town loca-tions, the final one at the cor-ner of Richards and Pen-der — the loca-tion today of a fan-cy-pants sand-which shop called Finch’s. It was run by a series of man-agers, but the most not-ed are Binky Marks (for his ener-gy and vision, as well as his abra-sive-ness and inde-pen-dent think-ing, which result in Bill Duthie hir-ing him away in the late 1950s to man-age his book-store) and Osmo Lahti (for his ded-i-ca-tion and longevi-ty).  In 1983, with down-town rents hav-ing become a bit rich for the store’s blood, the People’s Co-op Book-store head-ed for the near-sub-urbs and its cur-rent loca-tion at 1391 Com-mer-cial Dri-ve. Ray Viaud, the longest-serv-ing man-ag-er in the store’s his-to-ry, had been appoint-ed to the post a year before that.

The 1980s were, in ret-ro-spect for many of us in the trade, the last Gold-en Age of Books. It was the last time that the entire trade was not suf-fer-ing from an iden-ti-ty cri-sis and won-der-ing about its pur-pose in life; and it was cer-tain-ly my lifetime’s Gold-en Age of the Inde-pen-dent Book-seller, when Duthie Books was in its cli-max stage, and book chains were no more than a small white cloud on the hori-zon, no big-ger than a man’s hand.

The People’s Co-op Book-store, how-ev-er, had fall-en on hard times. And to be fair, it had always had a bit of a strug-gle. The store in fact was depen-dant on con-tri-bu-tions from vol-un-teers, and ongo-ing fundrais-ing efforts, to stay in busi-ness. At the same time, the pro-lif-er-a-tion of book-stores through-out the city in the decades after the People’s Co-op blazed the way — not just apo-lit-i-cal inde-pen-dents, but a pletho-ra of pro-gres-sive book-stores — afford-ed the lux-u-ry of sec-tar-i-an book-selling. The People’s Co-op had moved some dis-tance from its inclu-sive found-ing, and in fact had become a some-what sec-tar-i-an book-shop, forg-ing a close iden-ti-fi-ca-tion with the Com-mu-nist Par-ty of Cana-da and its par-tic-u-lar brand of Marx-ism-Lenin-ism. This was to dis-tin-guish it from the var-i-ous oth-er man-i-fes-ta-tions of left-pro-gres-sive thought as expressed in Van-cou-ver book-stores. Spar-ta-cus Books, Van-guard Books, the Enver Hox-ha Book-store, the Van-cou-ver Women’s Book-store, and a few oth-ers staked out posi-tions in many instances to dis-tin-guish them-selves from the People’s Co-op, which many left-ists thought had lost the plot.

In spite of the move to Com-mer-cial Dri-ve and its cheap-er rent (back in the 1980s; it’s not so much cheap-er any-more), the store’s exis-tence remained pre-car-i-ous, and the ear-ly 1980s saw some con-sid-er-a-tion being giv-en to shut-ter-ing the People’s Co-op Book-store.

Then, Expo 86 came along; and as every Van-cou-verite knows, Expo 86 changed every-thing.

Con-tin-ue read-ing My Careen as a Book-seller (2) :: The Expo Years