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Little shops around the corner

Independent stores do more than sell books.
They help build the community

Kaylyn Nadon and Levi Binnema at Audreys. Independent book shops are thriving downtown. (Emilie Lavoie)

By Emilie Lavoie

JASPER AVENUE is home to some of the finest independent bookstores in Edmonton, and they have weathered the pandemic in good shape, thanks to a fiercely loyal customer base.

As the oldest independent bookstore in the city, Audreys leans into the book nook esthetic with floor-to-ceiling dark brown bookshelves and brick walls that attract photographers and bookworms alike.

“One of the biggest things is we don’t play music,” says Audreys sales associate, Levi Binnema, who has degrees in English literature and creative writing. “You can hear right now the traffic sounds, but it really creates this inner peace. You can be in your own little space and I think a lot of customers use the store for that and for relaxation.

“You immediately walk in and say, This is an independent bookstore, this is something different, it doesn’t feel like a chain.

“I love it.”

Kaylyn Nadon, who worked for nine years with the Edmonton’s houseless before coming to Audreys, says the attitude is “let’s forge a relationship; let’s help each other; let’s sell your books.”

The bookstore, which carries work by more than 100 local and Alberta authors, has worked hard to dig deep roots and connect with the community.

Audreys is finding new ways to connect with readers, and Binnema says they are hoping to have a Tik Tok for their bookstore up and running soon.

“We have some amazing people on staff who have a Tik Tok brain.”

The community loves Audreys bookstore back. “When COVID struck, people were like ‘we can’t lose Audreys’. It was heartwarming and we were so happy to provide excellent service.” Say Binnema.

¤ Audreys: Born and read in YEG

Daisy Chain Book Co. is another independent bookstore that opened in the downtown area during the pandemic. So far, it has received much of the same support as Audreys, founder Brandi Morpurgo, says.

“I have never run a bookstore before the pandemic. I think a bookstore is like any other business. You have to be willing to adapt and be flexible for what the people you’re serving want to be a part of. You have to be able to find a new way to serve people so they will choose you.”

Morpurgo used to travel the province selling her merchandise from a book truck. Two years ago, she settled down just off Jasper, at 102nd Avenue and 125th Street.

“My passion is about creating a community of readers,” she says. “And, as beautiful as it is to drive in and do something funky, I’m always driving away from the community. So, it doesn’t seem to match with the passion that I have.”

By hosting events in which members of Daisy Chain’s various book clubs can combine readings with locally made chocolate, Morpurgo is finding new ways to work with other businesspeople and grow her customer base at the same time.

Independent bookstores aren’t just businesses, she says. They’re also community builders.

“Continually choose an independent bookstore over another megastore option. Choose our bookstore, yes, but any independent bookstore because that is how they grow and benefit the community wherever they are.”

The independent bookstores will always draw crowds because of knowledgable employees who love books, Nadon says.

“It’s really great to have diverse staff with niche interests, because I can always say, for beach read go check Liz’s staff picks, Berry reads mystery, or Jenna reads sci-fi.”

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