Long live the indie bookstore!

Does this look like a bookstore to you?

No? How about this?

Tough crowd. Hmmm… I wonder where I’m going wrong?

While attending MARCOM, a professional development conference produced by leaders in communications, I heard the most outrageous statement: “bookstores are the most ridiculous idea ever”. Can you believe that? The speaker, who shall remain nameless, professed that wandering the many shelves in a bookstore aimlessly, just “looking for something to read” is silly. Almost stupid. Of course, he reasoned, bookstores will be the first to go, now that the digital age has blessed us with its beautiful and convenient holy grail: online stores. Why go into a physical bookstore? What’s the point? Bookstores are apparently just like (supposedly boring) libraries, with an added expense.

His solution? Because selling random books without context is an exercise in directionless marketing, he argues that we should be buying fitness books at a gym, art books at a museum, and food books at the grocery store.


To top it all off, this anti-bookstore guy was an author! Why would a published author bite the hand that feeds him? He just didn’t understand the culture of books. As a real, paper-and-ink book loyalist, I go into a bookstore and – gasp! – aimlessly wander for a book to read, no context necessary. You know why? Because I don’t give a hoot about context. It’s totally irrelevant to a book lover! The point of going into a physical bookstore is to touch them, look at them, admire the covers, make wish lists, drink tea and huddle in the corner with a few novels to scan, and simply have fun! Time doesn’t matter in a bookstore.

So, Mr. Anti-bookstore Guy, I respectfully disagree and encourage you to check out communities that independent bookstores, such as Kaleidescope Kids, are fostering in their neighbourhood. Of course, I’m not the expert in marketing and the economy. I cannot argue with your statistics and fair assessment of Chapters, which has become a retailer of home décor products rather than books, but the bookstore experience will always trump the “convenience” of online shopping. Hands down!

Spotlight on Kaleidescope Kids (Ottawa, ON)

Kaleidoscope Kids is an adorable little shop in the heart of The Glebe, Ottawa’s quirky cluster of hip and local businesses. Just across the street from Lansdowne Park, the Canal, and a ten minute walk from the fabulous Life of Pie Bakery, this colourful bookstore is a delight to behold. In addition to specializing in children’s books and Young Adult novels, Kaleidoscope Kids has a fantastic but carefully chosen selection for parents.

Owners Kim, Karin, and Kelly knew that opening a bookstore would be a tough process. They prepared themselves for the hard work that would surely be required to succeed in such a difficult industry. Their love for books and for encouraging reading amongst young children, however, helped make the decision easier. When asked how they compete with the popularity of e-readers and online bookshops, the enthusiastic owners replied with gumption:

We feel that our service and selection are our biggest strengths. We pride ourselves on our knowledge, service and readers’ advisory expertise and feel that this is what sets us apart from the big chains. Between the three of us, our staff and our families we have read much of what you find on the shelves. We enjoy matching readers up with books and derive great pleasure from seeing a child eagerly come back for the second, or third, or fourth, title in a series that you’ve recommended. We’re the only children’s bookstore in Ottawa and have a large number of titles on the shelves to accommodate and celebrate many different interests.

In a world of TVs, PSPs, DVDs, DSs and X-Boxes we have found that many parents are encouraging their kids to take a break from the world of electronics and get lost in the world of a book. And really, what is more lovely than cozying up with a little person and a good book?

All the shelves, filled with storybooks of all shapes and sizes are at the perfect height for kids to reach. As you can see, there is a mix of subject matter from Batman to Rapunzel to Olivia.What more could you ask for?

I was curious about where Kim, Karin and Kelly’s love for books came from, so I asked about some of their favourite childhood reads:

Karin – Picture book: Richard Scarry’s What do People do all Day; Kid Fiction: Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising – though it is hard to name only a few! I read pretty much anything as a kid, couldn’t help myself!

Kim – I learned to read with The Cat in the Hat and loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (I still have the copy my aunt gave me).

Kelly – I made my grandmother read a little book called How Do We Get to the Zoo over and over and over. When she tried to skip lines or words I would correct her and make her put them back in. My younger daughter and I are just reading one of my childhood favourites, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg together.

I remember reading From the Mixed-Up Files as well as a child and loved it!

While visiting Kaleidoscope Kids, snapping a few pictures for my blog, I noticed that the lighting in the store is really creative: a fun mix of origami and lantern paper. What do you think? Isn’t this pretty? I know it’s just a small detail, but all those little details add up to create a fantastic and welcoming atmosphere.

Want a few recommendations from the Kaleidoscope Kids ladies? Check out these titles!

Karin – I’m reading the last in the Kane Chronicles series called The Serpent’s Shadow. I’m almost done, but my son Riley has stolen it so I will have to steal it back tonight to finish the last couple of chapters! I LOVED Insurgent by Veronica Roth and the new Cassandra Clare (City of Lost Souls) was also good. I also still have a good feeling about the Jamieson Findley book, The Summer of Permanent Wants, which is set on the Rideau Canal.

Kim – I also loved Insurgent and am loving Bitterblue right now.

Kelly – we sell some titles for grown-ups and I’m reading Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James right now. It’s a mystery involving the characters from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I think the picture book Silly Doggy is adorable and I’ll need to borrow Insurgent from Kim or Karin.

I learned about some fantastic new titles from our interview! Has anyone read Insurgent? It’s getting really enthusiastic reviews and being compared to The Hunger Games. Sounds like a winner to me!

Of course, I haven’t been “allowed” to purchase a single book this year, but my wishlist will be three feet long by the end of December!

And don’t worry, Kaleidoscope has got the parents covered too. Here’s a fun display that includes adult recommendations as well. That way, mommy will have something to stay entertained as well… but, let’s not kid ourselves. I’m nearly 29 and I still read YA fiction.

Though the process of opening a bookshop was a big job, Karin, Kelly and Kim were rewarded for their efforts. They’ve been able to really become a part of the community, make friends and, best of all, talk about books everyday with kids:

Most rewarding? There are so many things – from watching the kids who come in grow up over the past six years, to the fact that the three of us are still close and enjoying what we do, and who we’re doing it with. The independent book selling community has also been a wonderful surprise – so supportive, such great energy for books and the readers who love them, and full of great ideas and the tenacity required in a very tough business.

I’d love to hear about the bookstores in your neighbourhood. Let’s prove the anti-bookstore guy wrong! Who the heck wants to buy their books at the gym?! Not me.

And, in case you’re wondering about my mysterious mention of the Life of Pie Bakery, check out this video to learn more! After you find a book at Kaleidoscope, wander over for a scone. It’s only a five minute walk. (Jalapeno and cheddar is phenomenal. Spicy but so yummy.)