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‘Then COVID hit’: Small Calgary bookstores celebrate surviving through pandemic

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Owl’s Nest Books in southwest Calgary was enjoying a busy day Friday, with people stopping by to buy books.

“I’m actually reading a lot more than I was prior to the pandemic,” customer Richard Oppenhiem said. “It’s a bit of an escape.”

Staff were getting ready for a special event this weekend, joining almost 90 other shops across the country for Canadian Independent Bookstore Day.

Read more: ‘The universe has really expanded.’ How 3 small businesses pivoted in the pandemic

“A lot of it is to celebrate our customers, who have kept us going through everything that’s been going on this last year,” Owl’s Nest Books manager Kristi Weisgerber said.

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After almost half-a-century of selling books in Calgary, the store’s seen no shortage of struggles recently.

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“At the end of 2019, we actually downsized to half the size we were and we weren’t sure if we were going to make it another year, in the face of Amazon and their cheap everything,” Weigerber said.

Many customers switched to ordering online through the store’s website, stopping by for curbside pickup or shopping in-store.

Read more: Southern Alberta businesses find success opening during pandemic

“Our whole family believes in supporting local business and trying to keep our money in the community,” customer Marilyn Oshry said.

Store staff says life amid COVID-19 restrictions has been a factor in attracting some shoppers.

“With everyone now home and desperate to get off the computer after spending all day on Zoom meetings, they’re looking for books, they’re looking for puzzles,” Weisgerber said.

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Many customers say they do whatever they can to support local companies as they struggle to survive the pandemic.

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“It’s hugely important because a small bookstore goes way beyond just selling books,” customer Brigid Stewart said.

Owl’s Nest and other independent bookstores are trying to adapt to restrictions as best they can.

“All of the events that we would try and do in-store, we are now doing online,” Weisgerber said. “We are bringing all of our community together with our all of our local authors.”

Canadian Independent Bookstore Day happens on Saturday, April 24, with more information available through the event’s organizer, the Canadian Independent Booksellers Association.

After a dealing with all the challenges of trying to run a business during the pandemic, Weisgerber is grateful for the chance to celebrate.

“Thanks to the community here, we’re going strong.”

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