Looking for an escape from the daily click, click, click of the keyboard?
While the great god technology continues to captivate Londoners, one downtown bookstore has built itself a 40-year history by offering customers that very escape.
Then again, Jim Capel and Teresa Tarasewicz purchased City Lights Bookshop from Marc Emery, the so-called Prince of Pot, so it’s understandable people might expect a little bit of irreverence when they walk in the front door.
“If you go on Amazon looking for your stuff, I think it has dawned slowly on people they are getting an office experience,” said Tarasewicz. “You are going through lists, like at work, inputting numbers, doing data entry. I think people are getting saturated with all the clicking and typing. When people come through our doors, they are hit with sensory overload.”
Purchased from Emery back in 1992, Capel and Tarasewicz have run City Lights Bookshop for 23 of its 40 years.
It takes no more than stepping inside for people to get an understanding of the sensory overload Tarasewicz is talking about.
Packed from wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling within a virtual labyrinth of book stacks, a visit to City Lights couldn’t be further away from visiting one of those big box bookstores.
While Capel estimates the store contains more than 100,000 books, Tarasewicz describes the City Lights experience like “walking into a piece of artwork.”
Put another way, she calls it a “three-dimensional world that provides a fourth dimension of knowledge.”
Both Capel and Tarasewicz are upfront and honest about the challenges they have faced in recent years.
Whether those challenges are tied to the books themselves, the downtown location, or the economy of the Forest City, Capel describes the recent past as “tough slogging.”
Fortunately, that has only served to make the current transformation all the more satisfying.
Capel said he believes people are rediscovering printed books much in the same way vinyl records have made a comeback.
That shift is being driven by a younger generation of book lover. In fact, Capel estimates the great bulk of City Lights’ customers, “at least half I’d say,” are under 30 years old.
Shoppers in their late teens and early 20s, he adds, seem to be driving the return to books.
Although the renewed interest in print hasn’t been entirely magical in nature, Capel thanks a certain literary magician for beginning the shift.
“The biggest growth in books, in the last 10 or 15 years, has been in the young adult market,” Capel said. “I think we have to thank Harry Potter for bringing people into bookstores and getting young people excited about reading books again.”
While books are being rediscovered, City Lights is still a business and must face its challenges head on.
Tarasewicz said it has been wonderful to see people rediscover the shop because they are looking for an experience, an escape from the technology that is so pervasive these days.
And so, to set themselves apart, Capel and Tarasewicz have — as they did right from the beginning — focused on emulating what drew customers back when Emery was running the shop.
As it turns out, the big draw was a little silliness and a lot of conversation.
“We talk to people, we dance in the aisles, we try to entice people to join us, sometimes we act silly, or engage in those great conversations like Marc used to back in the day,” Tarasewicz said. “A lot of the people who were kids who grew up in the City Lights landscape, they now have kids and they come back saying they want to show where they shopped. That is just so emotional; it’s so wonderful we can continue to provide that experience.”