I owe my involve-ment in the People’s Co-op Book-store to anoth-er his-tor-i-cal fac-tor: Expo 86. For if it wasn’t for Expo 86, there would have been no People’s Co-op Book-store, and no board, for me to join five years lat-er.
A “shib-bo-let” is just an ear of corn, but the Hebrews of the Bib-li-cal times found it was a use-ful too for sort-ing the human wheat from the chaff. In the twen-ti-eth cen-tu-ry, shib-bo-leths were refined for use to fil-ter cryp-to-fas-cists, red-bait-ing cold-war-riors, and weak-lings and vac-il-la-tors from Peo-ple Like Us, who could be count-ed on in The Strug-gle.
Expo 86 was such a shib-bo-leth. If it was clear to you that Expo 86 was mere-ly a play-thing for the rich and a tool for dou-bling down on the work-ing class, that marked you for a good egg and a depend-able pro-gres-sive. If, on the oth-er hand, you allowed that some good might come out of this Class 2 World’s Fair that was going to put Van-cou-ver on the map as a world-class Rouen, well the only thing that sep-a-rat-ed you from the black-shirts of the 1930s was the lack of an open-ly fas-cist par-ty to vote for. The 1980s were an inter-est-ing time in Van-cou-ver. I was able to use the Expo 86 pass repro-duced here to alien-ate just about every-body in town: my fel-low rev-o-lu-tion-ar-ies at the bar-ri-cades, most of whom nev-er for-gave me for using it; and my par-ents, from whom it was a gift, and who nev-er for gave me for using it just a sin-gle time.
I could take com-fort from the fact that anoth-er pil-lar of the left broke ranks, and embraced Expo 86: the People’s Co-op Book-store. Because when Moscow called, won-der-ing who was going to run the book con-ces-sion at the Sovi-et Union’s pavil-ion, the pro-gres-sives lead-ing the book-store found a way to rec-on-cile their cri-tique of Expo so that the People’s Co-op could answer the call.
The Sovi-et pavil-ion turned out to be one of the sur-prise hits of Expo 86. No won-der. Where else could you view Tom & Jer-ry car-toons where the cat always wins in the end? The book dis-play too was mas-sive, and thou-sands and thou-sands of books were sold that sum-mer. Strange books, too. Odd sin-gle vol-umes of Molo-tov or Bukharin or Lenin. Trav-el guides to weird cities with bleak, mas-sive squares and boule-vards, dom-i-nat-ed by giant Lenin stat-ues and Marx busts, seem-ing-ly aban-doned but for a cou-ple of bus-es: cities that as a west-ern-er you prob-a-bly wouldn’t be allowed to vis-it any-way.
When Expo end-ed, while the giant fab-ric Swatch was being fold-ed away, and the McDonald’s float-ing barge was being towed out of sight, and the giant hock-ey stick was on anoth-er barge car-ry-ing it up to Courte-nay, the People’s Co-op Book-store count-ed its sur-plus from the 165-day fair: around $125,000. Not bad: enough to under-write the store’s oper-at-ing loss-es for quite a few years, as it turned out.
Even as late as 1991–92, nobody on the board seemed to won-der much about the suc-cess of that Expo 86 book-stand, or to pon-der the mean-ing of those Amer-i-can and Euro-pean tourists car-ry-ing home those odd vol-umes of the works of Sovi-et thinkers. Expo 86 had giv-en the city’s lead-ing (or only, depend-ing on your views) pro-gres-sive book-store in town a new lease on life, and that’s what was impor-tant.
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Start from the begin-ning: My Careen as a Book-seller (1) :: Before It All Began