On a Friday, after work, I bought a hardcover copy of Beautiful Scars: Steeltown Secrets, Mohawk Skywalkers, by Hamilton musician and artist, Tom Wilson. I found a bench, parked myself, and started reading. Tom Wilson tells stories and he’s good at it. In the few chapters I got through on Ottawa Street, on an early evening when it was barely warm enough, I was engaged and sucked up into Wilson’s world and I didn’t need batteries a charger or a software update.
It may be counter intuitive in a world where we all seem to be staring into our phones (even now!), but demand for e-books is down while demand for paper books is up. In Canada, it is reported, that “ebook sales in the adult market made up 16.5 per cent of total sales, while 74.9 per cent came from print books”.
According to another report, though, selling books isn’t for everyone and chains are losing to independent bookstores: “Independent bookstores are the places where you drop in for the latest paperback, listen to a reading from a favorite author or find a unique gift for a unique friend. And they’re thriving”. Which brings us to where I obtained Wilson’s book: At an independent bookstore that just opened on Ottawa Street next door to The Cannon.
The City & The City Books is owned and operated by Janet Hoy and Tim Hanna who live nearby in the Stipley neighbourhood and who have decided to place a bet on selling books, both new and used.
They have a spacious store that isn’t cluttered. New books are on white shelves and used books are on black. They also have a growing number of magazines displayed on a rack. There are books covering topics from politics and current events to personal interest and cooking, and everything in between, but “We have a lot of literary fiction”, Janet told me in the store. “Both of us do love sci-fi”.
Originally from Eastern Ontario, Janet attended McMaster before moving to Toronto where she spent 25 years working with homelessness and addiction before returning to Hamilton. Tim had experience with new and used bookstores and “I guess we both always loved books”. Together they decided on Ottawa Street for a location. “We looked around when we started talking about this. Ottawa was just such a cool street and we wanted to be a part of it,” Janet said. “We live in the east end, if we’re going to open a store let’s do it on Ottawa”.
She said the store will also carry graphic novels and “what the neighbourhood wants”.
In keeping with a neighbourly spirit, the grand opening featured cupcakes from The Hearty Hooligan, snacks from East Hamilton Cheese Shop, and raffles for gift certificates from The Cannon, Simply Zen and Crash Landing, as well as art from Drew Taylor.
Prices for used books start at a few dollars. The Tom Wilson autobiography with both cover and jacket in excellent condition, for example, was $12. They also carry gift items including socks and soaps.