Hunter Street Books is officially open for business. As the first independent bookstore in downtown Peterborough since Titles closed its doors in 2012, there has been much ado surrounding the shop. Author and now bookstore proprietor Michelle Berry says she couldn’t pass up the opportunity when it arose. “I think I would have waited a year or two if I hadn’t seen that this space was available. It’s located exactly where I wanted to be and it’s just the right size.”
As a prolific author and continuing education teacher, Berry has always dreamed of owning her own bookshop. When asked why, her answer is simple: “I think it’s every writer’s dream to be surrounded by books. There’s like 1500 books in here and I’ve got to pick each one. It felt like a crazy shopping spree! Plus, Peterborough needed a bookstore.” Berry has plans to fill that need and create a space that interacts and integrates with the local community. Her 1500 books are made up of a mix of fiction (mostly literature, but some detective novels and popular series also), non-fiction, memoir, cooking, poetry, graphic novels, art books, children’s books and even a small section on parenting. She says her only real criteria for choosing stock is that she “just wants good writing.”
She has big plans for community involvement in the shop. They vary from hosting book clubs and post-film festival discussions to book launches and lecture series. “I’d love to do a lecture series here. Maybe even get a Trent professor down here once a month to try and tell the average person what they are researching and explain why they are studying that topic.” Even before the shop opened its doors, Berry was flooded with requests by local authors to do book launches and signings. Unfortunately, she had to turn away many who were hoping to promote their materials before Christmas, but she says when things calm down and she has a policy in place she will welcome many authors to promote their works at the store.
Although the shop bears a stripped-down, modern aesthetic, the environment is welcoming. When you enter, the south facing windows fill the space with light that reflects from the white walls and light bookshelves. The books themselves are the main focus, each spine standing out in stark contrast to its monochromatic surroundings. Berry has also filled the space with local art, which will be rotated to feature new artists and is, of course, for sale. The works currently on display are by Carolyn Ward-Paige and their vibrant colours and metal elements jive well with the chosen aesthetic. Keeping in the community line, Berry is hoping to do an exhibit with students from the Fine Arts program at Thomas A. Stewart Secondary School to feature some of their work and get the community involved in supporting young artists.
Many people have wondered how Hunter Street Books will compete with the only other bookshop in town, corporate giant Chapters. When faced with the question, Berry is not hesitant to defend her decision to take them on. “I think people are missing Titles. I also find, I go into Chapters and they never have the book I want. They have all the top picks and everything, but when I’m looking for a particular book I have to order it. So even here if you come and have to order you will likely have to order at Chapters too. I’m hoping that I’m knowledgeable about a lot of the books here. I mean I’ve read a lot of them so I can actually have one on one conversations and recommend things to people.” That personal touch and firsthand knowledge of the Canadian literary community is what sets her store apart. Having been part of the Canadian literary scene for so long, Berry has extensive connections. When you enter the store there is a curated shelf off to the right hand side. There you will find recommendations from prominent Canadian authors with a printed insert explaining why they recommended each book. The curated shelf will change each month, giving us all a great excuse to drop in regularly to peruse the new selections.
The other obstacle to owning an independent book store in 2016 is the prevalence of e-books and e-readers. Berry doesn’t feel that she will need to worry much about competing with these. “I think there is a time and a place for them,” she says,
giving the example that you wouldn’t want to lug George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones around with you on holiday so having it as an ebook would come in handy. She further explains, “I’m distracted constantly with an e-reader. I can’t go back and read a
passage, whereas with books you can physically move it around. Books are beautiful. I’m equating this to records. I now have a turntable and a collection of records again. It takes me back to my childhood. E-books have gone down in sales recently. Everyone wants to come back to the actual physical thing and step away from technology. I mean with all the technology we’re busier than we ever were before, so it’s nice to step away from that.”
Hunter Street Books is a reason to go downtown. Whether buying a Christmas gift or browsing for your own library, Michelle Berry is sure to have a recommendation to suit your needs. Its convenient location means you can grab a coffee to go and spend hours there, reading jacket blurbs and immersing yourself in other worlds. You can even pick up your weekly copy of Arthur Newspaper there. What better reason to patronize this fantastic local business?