The Oldest Bookstore in Vancouver


Words: Charles Demers

Somewhere at the crossroads of ‘Vancouver is Awesome’ and ‘Vancouver was Awesome’ sits the oldest bookstore in the city: the People’s Co-Op Bookstore, established in 1945 and still in operation — though, like many in book retail, facing challenging times. But this Sunday, December 2nd, starting at 5pm, the store (at 1391 Commercial Drive) will host its 2nd Annual mixing-and-mingling-and-shopping holiday open house party, with extended shopping hours, refreshments, and, most importantly, dozens of the cities most celebrated authors in attendance, including Kevin Chong, Grant Lawrence, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Michael Turner, Caroline Adderson, and two-time Governor General’s Award winner and former Poet Laureate of Canada, George Bowering.

“I went last year and enjoyed the company,” says Bowering. “I am hoping there are pickled onions again. That’s all I ate last year.” (For the record, in addition to pickled onions, more traditional holiday treats will also be on offer.)

Still owned by its members, the store was founded after WWII by a range of community and labour activists, including the Communist Party. Yes, that’s right (or… left). The East Side institution was a long-standing attraction for Russophiles and book-lovers, even if, in recent years, the store’s emphasis has shifted to literary works alongside a broad range of progressive political writing.

“[The store] is (in its former location) where I bought a record of Yuri Gagarin speaking from space. I used to buy a lot of inexpensive Russian books there. Now I find books I didn’t know about but want to buy,” explains Bowering.

“I’ll be there because writers mingle like nobody’s business,” says poet, essayist, historian and fiction writer Wayde Compton. “And People’s Co-op is a crucial site of a kind of knowledge that can’t be had in any other way — the knowledge that comes from a physical book.”

Like last year’s party, this year’s festivities will be a great chance to not only meet your favourite local writers and get all your holiday shopping done, but to support an important piece of Vancouver’s history as well as its contemporary literary scene.

“People’s Co-op is special to me,” says Compton, “because they have never, to my knowledge, sold a single scented candle.” With your help they won’t have to.

The bookstore is at 1391 Commercial Drive; the party starts at 5pm.

Charles Demers is a Vancouver comedian, author, and activist, and is a volunteer board member of the People’s Co-Op Bookstore.