The best part of running Cabin Fever Books for Susan MacDonald has been the people she has met over the years and their stories.
“Every day you come in and you think, ‘What’s going to happen today?'” said MacDonald at her store on 20 Avenue and Centre Street North in Calgary.
The store is filled with rows and rows of paperbacks and hardcovers. Everything ranging from recent bestsellers to pieces of history, including volumes of the London Times dating back to the 1850s. MacDonald is proud of the personal experience she has been able to offer over the past 13 years.
“Many, many young men have come in and they’ve said, ‘I haven’t read since I was 15. What do you recommend I read?'” MacDonald recalls.
But after all those years of matching people with the right books, MacDonald is planning to close the store in May. The final decision, she says, was a combination of lower sales and not having enough money to hire staff.
“It can be lucrative still, I think. It’s a tough sell for some people and a lot of people think that everything is easily available online.”
While books have become a harder sell, the big book stores have adapted to online sales and electronic readers by selling everything from toys to Fitbits. Not so at the humble local used book store.
But ask people at Cabin Fever Books and they will tell you that browsing its shelves beats browsing online any day.
“It’s just fun to look around. You never know what you’re going to find or even just who you’ll meet,” 22-year-old book fan Saniya Khan said.
Customer Allan Funk predicts there will always be a desire for books in an electronic age.
“I think there is a pleasure in browsing and what surprises you on the shelf,” Funk said. “When you shop online–with all the algorithms those websites have–they cater to what you would have liked anyway, what you would’ve found anyway.”
MacDonald laments the closure as a loss of a calm meeting place. She recalls great conversations she’s had with customers over the years.
“We lose a place where you can lose yourself for two hours, maybe,” MacDonald said. “I think we lose community. I do not know how many times we’ve had people coming here and once we start having a conversation, it’s a fantastic thing because you go so many places in a short period of time.”
The store and its contents are now up for sale. MacDonald and her husband are hoping someone will keep the location as a bookstore.
“It’s sad,” Khan said “I just hope all these books find a good home.”
While customers are disappointed with the store’s upcoming closure, many are still optimistic there will be a place for books. They plan to keep buying them at book stores.
“To some degree, how we spend our money changes the world more than how we vote,” Funk said. “And I want to live in a world with books and book stores–so here’s where I spend my money.”