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Pop-up bookstore buys out 25-year-old Renaissance Books in New West

Wildfires Books, which started off with pop-ups and book fairs, will now have a permanent home on 12th Street
Wildfires Bookshop takes over the store that used to be Renaissance Books.

It’s the end of a chapter for one bookstore and the beginning of a new one for another. 

New West’s 25-year-old bookstore Renaissance Books handed over the keys to its 960-square-feet space on 712 12th St. to 10-month-old independent bookstore Wildfires Bookshop on July 1.

Samita Manhas, founder of Wildfires Bookshop, is now in the process of renovating the space that had been the last home of New West’s iconic bookstore run by John Preston and Lavana La Brey. 

Renaissance Books had been an intrinsic part of New West over the last two decades — offering a space for book launches, author talks, knitting circles, music concerts, and more importantly, 20,000-odd books covering a range of genres from mystery to humour, fiction, gardening, art and more. 

The space, with its entire book collection and pine bookshelves, is now in the hands of Manhas, who plans to reorganize it so as to make space for her own curated collection — a glimpse of which can be seen at the small retail nook at Moodswing Cafe and Bar on Front Street. 

Some of their featured books have included Abolition. Feminism. Now., The Boy and the Bindi that challenges binary gender norms and the young adult sci-fi fantasy Iron Widow.

As Manhas told the Record, the store focuses on books that are not just part of the mainstream — it celebrates “both historically and presently excluded voices and stories.” 

A dream come true 

Manhas’s journey as a bookshop entrepreneur started when Preston and La Brey were planning to end theirs — about a year ago. 

In July 2022, Manhas launched her first book pop-up at the Native Education College parking lot in Vancouver, followed by another at New West's Moodswing Coffee and Bar (formerly known as Old Crow Coffee) in October before deciding to house a small permanent collection at the retail nook of the cafe.

Around that time, Renaissance Books had already put up the For Sale sign in front of its store. 

“They've been on sale for a long time,” said Manhas. When she approached them in June 2023, both parties were able to come to a deal that worked, she said. 

As a first step to setting up the space, Manhas has decided to tidy up.

“The office is full of books, the back room is full of books; everywhere, there's just books,” she said. “So, we've started to clean up the aisles a bit, just so there's more walking space.”  

Many of the books have been marked 40 per cent off; soon the centre shelves will be replaced with ones on wheels that can be moved around when hosting events, said Manhas.

The renovation work will also focus on making the store accessible to all — “There are some books that are so high up that not everyone can get them. And not everybody can use a ladder to get them."

She is in the middle of figuring out: "How can we design it in a way that people can reach things and access things?”   

There’s still a ways to go, but, said Manhas, “there's a lot of support from people in the community because this is not just going to be a space for me or what I want to do, it’s a space for our community to gather. So, I think, people are really excited to help out.” 

“I've had a lot of friends come by and bring us plants. We've been playing music, opening the door, just putting books outside for sale,” she said. 

“And just letting people know that we're here.”

Wildfires Bookshop is located at 712 12th St. The shop is currently offering 40 per cent sale on select titles, and $2 book sales.