bookshops, tea

Alice cupcakes by Natalie Bode

One of the things I can’t wait to do is host tea parties at Biblio, whether for children or adults. When I first conceived Biblio in my head, my idea was that each room would have a literary theme, and the kids’ room was Alice in Wonderland (sci-fi and fantasy was a hobbit room or somewhere in Middle Earth. I may still do this). I was on the prowl after that for anything literary that I could decorate with or use. Shortly after I wrote my ideas, I came across the Alice in Wonderland Cardew tea set in Winners. At least, part of it, anyway.

I was so excited I bought the 6-cup tea pot, the cookie tray and another different tray, the creamer and sugar pot, and a 2-cup tea pot, which I later gave to my sister. I imagine serving tea from this set to the children celebrating a birthday at my shop or having a tea party with friends. The party-goers will sip tea and bite into decadent ridiculous-looking cupcakes, and I or one of my staff will read a good story aloud—perhaps the mad tea party chapter from Alice? Maybe they’ll all even get a literary goody bag before they go!

And now Chapters and Indigo are selling the very same Alice in Wonderland tea sets, with cups as well, in anticipation of Tim Burton’s exciting Alice in Wonderland film. I don’t prefer the mugs they sell so I went online to find the kind of teacups and saucers I want, and I found them. Three different ones I like, actually. As soon as possible, I’ll nab as many sets as I can.

Design Monkey's Alice

On top of the tea parties families can privately book, I’ve thought of having an open one, as well. For this, the window display will showcase different copies of Alice in Wonderland (I already have three editions! Read about the history of this book here) and perhaps a crazy-looking marzipan cake and Alice figures, and playing cards strewn about, and invitations too.

On purpose, I have never used my Alice in Wonderland tea set myself, not in the 3 years I’ve had it. It’s for Biblio only. Every day I glance at it sitting on display in the kitchen and I have to smile. I can’t wait to set that very important date for Biblio’s grand opening. Perhaps I’ll have Alice in Wonderland invitations, entreating you not to be late!

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books, bookshops

It might be the optimist in me but I like to believe that businesses don’t fail, people do. I’ve heard this somewhere, and it rings true for me. I’m not pointing the finger whatsoever, but the fact remains that there are indie bookshops still actually opening and surviving regardless of the devastating effects of box stores and burgeoning technology. I want to believe that if I’m properly educated in how to run Biblio and how to differentiate it from other shops, and I act on that education and continue to learn, I won’t fail.

Almost every single day I read news of yet another independent bookshop closing. It’s both sad and frustrating because these shops have been significant in their community, most of them for a very long time. David Mirvish Books, one of Canada’s oldest bookshops and possibly the most most popular visual arts, photography, and design bookstore closed almost a year ago after 34 years of operation, opting instead, like many others, to sell their inventory online (Miller, Toronto Star). The very popular Pages in Toronto closed its doors after 30 years this past August due to impossible rent increases (Levack, Toronto Notes). A couple of weeks ago I saw that Duthie Books in Vancouver had written a rather bitter- yet devastated-sounding announcement that they are closing their last shop after 53 “(mostly) happy” years, due to competition. And today I read that Prime Crime Mystery Bookstore in Ottawa, an award-winning specialty shop in the Glebe, is closing its doors in March.

The shops are closing for many reasons: the economy, the box-store competition, the rising popularity of the ebook and ereaders, it’s just time to retire and no one has offered to buy, rent is increasing beyond affordability, etc. They’re all very real and very valid reasons to close up shop. But something keeps telling me that if I have a great business plan in place, one that is well-advised, takes into account what works, and considers the future, but one that is also constantly reviewed and adjusted if necessary based on keeping abreast of the industry, and if I educate myself well enough and keep learning and participating in the literary community, and if I don’t give up and let the media coverage get to me, I can make a go of it.

I’m willing to take that risk because I hate the alternative. I don’t want to contribute to the bookshop “depression” by not opening Biblio out of fear of failure. This might sound counter to what I just wrote about staying abreast of the industry and growing with it, but I’m also hoping that I can stand for what I believe in—that is, the value of a “real” book—and still be successful.

Penguin clothbound classics. Photo:

I can’t help but refuse to buy into the techno hype surrounding the tiresome ebooks and ereaders. I know there are others like me for whom the lure of saving space and even money falls short. I’m certain I’m not the only person who derives great pleasure from the fragrance of ink and paper, the art of a beautifully bound volume or set, the warmth of a book as opposed to the coldness of technology. If I were an author, I’d want to hold that tangible novel in my hands, fan its lovely deckle-edged pages, and breathe in the fragrance of a dream come true. I’d want to sign pages to readers with a lovely pen; I’d want to see that book on my shelf and the shelves of others. Stephen King is apparently some kind of huge proponent of ebooks, but after writing so many books he can’t even remember having written half of them, what’s another newly bound novel?

The thought of a group of book club members sitting in a cozy circle discussing Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book while clutching their Kindles or iPads seems ridiculous to me, and somewhat sad. There’s something lost there. But that’s because when I discuss books I like to be able to have access to that book in every possible way. I love to run my hands over a  matte or cloth cover, to flip through the pages, to weigh a novel’s heaviness in my hand. The ereaders are just no match for the real thing.

Perhaps people like me are dismissed as behind the times, sentimentalist, romantic. So what if we are? We’re also lovers of a certain art and history; we appreciate the creative process that goes into making a book. And we value a different sort of practicality. I think of books as more accessible than technology, less discriminating, and just easier for people of all ages. We booklovers want something we can trust—and often readily own.

I just think technology can be unreliable, no matter how well it’s engineered. Sure, it’s convenient in many ways. But there has been many a time when I’ve wanted to toss this laptop out the window even though it’s only a year old and a good one, and countless occasions at work I’ve wasted time waiting for a program to reload after a crash while a customer stands impatiently before me.

Amazon Kindle. Just not the same. Photo:

Technology is fallible. Its growth rate is exponential and you have to keep up or it becomes useless. It’s expensive. It’s limited. There will be glitches. You might be in the middle of a terrific chapter when your battery runs out and you’re nowhere near a charger, or perhaps you’re a writer giving a reading and suddenly your ereader won’t load your book. I mean, what if? Then how happy will you be about this hand-held piece of convenience when you could have simply turned the page or flipped to where your Post-it Note indicated? Really. How inconvenient is a book if you only need one at a time?

Besides, over the next twenty years or so, it’s the baby boomers who will be doing most of the buying still anyway, so regardless of how obsessed younger generations may be with technology, books will still be purchased. And people will still enjoy the sensory and tactile experience of shopping in a store rather than online. They’ll also frequent bookshops for all the other things they offer, for that tangible sense of a literary community. I don’t believe that “normal” books and indie bookshops will die out altogether. People will still want them. Thus, someone has to provide them. One of those someones will be me.

But for those who need something more convincing than sentimentalism and romantic notions, read Margaret Atwood’s Three Reasons to Keep Paper Books, and More on Keeping Paper Books. She argues better than I do (and writes better, too). More importantly, she rationally presents her points, and then, like a good debater, backs them up with credible sources. The point we both make is, there is value to the traditionally made books. And I say that its up to those of us who feel passionate about that to keep buying, selling, and reading them.

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authors, bookshops

Margaret Atwood signing books. photo: Sol Kauffman

Since it’s going to be some time before I can finance the bricks and mortar version of Biblio, I’m going to start the shop online. I may have already mentioned this, but I’ve been dreaming of this for years now and I can’t stop thinking about it. The very idea makes my heart race. I can’t wait!

Each day I find myself daydreaming about running the shop, and I’m always so happy being busy and in my element and using my skills and doing what I feel meant to do. I also deliberately put aside a bit of time to close my eyes and visualize what the place will look like and what’s going on there. This morning, for instance, I was welcoming Atwood on the little stage in the room where we’ll have author readings and signings, book clubs, art exhibits, and other events. I had her water ready on a little round side table beside the wingback Author’s Chair. She’s admired the display we set up of her works alongside Graeme Gibson‘s two Bedside books (because they’re so beautiful). [EDIT: While searching for a picture of an author on stage to use for this post, I found one of Atwood signing books. And will you look at the display behind her?! Ours will be much nicer, but still. They combined their books as well!]

Anyway, I keep a notebook with me all the time now to jot down ideas. Biblio is becoming so real, so fleshed out, and there are times I feel so badly like going there, that I find myself incredulous it doesn’t actually exist. Even my husband is starting to feel that way. “If only…”

Impatience moves me, so tonight I drafted up a skeleton plan of what I want the Biblio site to contain. And then I remembered with a start that Biblio is actually not unheard of, probably even quite a popular name online, and I needed to find a domain I could use. After trying several domain names and finding them unavailable, C and I finally decided on To me, it’s perfect. It sounds just right and there’s no guessing as to what the site is, either. This is it! And whoa, do I feel excited!!

I’m not sure yet whether Bella’s Bookshelves will eventually morph into bibliobooksandtea to give it some history. I might borrow from it, anyway, or keep it as is and make it a sister blog. There’s still planning to do for Biblio online and the design as well and contacting other sites as either suppliers or for permission, etc., but the process has been started.

Gak! I’m not ready!

And yet, I’m SO ready.

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People keep asking me if I’m going to sell coffee at Biblio. A huge part of me wants to say no because I don’t want to add to the now cliché “books and coffee” culture, and I’d like to be a sort of niche place, but I think that might not go over well. Might even be suicide as far as the business is concerned. My husband points out that coffee is probably the more common drink and perhaps many would love to go to Biblio but then won’t because I don’t sell it. Then one evening as we were walking the dog, he said, “Boy, I could really use a coffee.” There was a pregnant pause before he said, pointedly, “Too bad Biblio doesn’t sell it.”

I laughed, but I got the point. And I think he’s right. There isn’t anything but a Tim Horton’s nearby and we all know their coffee is dishwater, so eastenders who like a stronger, full-bodied coffee have to drive all the way across the river to Starbucks. Meh. My vision is to serve as many people as I can and not to exclude booklovers on the basis that they might prefer a coffee to tea from time to time. I also see business people coming in before work and getting their coffee to go. Unless they’re like me, most people will likely be drinking coffee in the morning, and the happier I make them, the happier I’ll be.


As you know, I have a sacred appreciation for tea, particularly herbal, but I’m quite open to black (monk’s blend, earl grey, lapsang souchong, lady grey, Yorkshire Tea, etc.) and others. And my favourite thing to do is buy books and read, and since these two—tea and books—spell the ultimate in coziness and contentedness for me, it only makes sense to marry them in almost ceremonious celebration of what they represent. For me, books and tea are love, passion, comfort, warmth, culture, class (in the sense of an elegance of style, taste, manner)—all especially valuable things.

I know I’m not alone in this appreciation, which is one reason I’m opening Biblio. I also plan on creating gift baskets that recommend certain teas (but not coffee this time!) with certain books (and perhaps music, if you can read and have music in the background), because I find that when I’ve picked my book to read and go to make tea, there’s a choosing process that depends on that particular book.

The Ektorp chaise: my favourite spot in my friend Marie's flat

Perhaps like many, I rarely read a book without a cup of tea, and if I can read and sip in a perfect place as well, one conducive to the type of atmosphere that goes with the two—say, a yellow-lighted corner of the living room with a blanket, by a fireplace, in a comfy chair or chaise longue (IKEA’s Ektorp is my coveted choice), or in a place that’s inviting, with dark wood and lots of books—then the act of reading becomes something like going to church, being hugged by your favourite person, sitting in a peaceful sunlight clearing in the woods, or cuddling with a beloved pet.

It’s a luxury, books and tea together, and for me, though a relatively small thing, it feels downright decadent. This is why I want to open Biblio, to recreate and offer this experience to others (complete with working fireplace). In a world that is becoming increasingly depressed, simple pleasures are most welcome.

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Nicholas Hoare Books (I finally did find a photo that's close to my idea!)

Last night I surfed the internet for hours looking for a bookshop or bookshop tearoom photo that conveyed something close to how I imagine Biblio, both outside and in. I searched in vain, much to my surprise. Either people aren’t taking photos of a certain kind of bookshop or there aren’t any that look and feel similar to the way I imagine Biblio to be.

What I did find, though, were many articles and posts documenting the best bookshops in the world or in a person’s particular city.

While I lived in Hamilton for about five years, my ex and I would plan Saturdays as second-hand bookshopping days, mapping out the stores and cafés along the way and spending the entire day searching for treasures. We walked in all manner of shops; one in particular sticks out in my mind because it was a complete firetrap. I was afraid to touch a book for fear the precarious piles might tumble down around me. There, however, I saw my first leather-bound antique copy of a Dickens volume, which the Fagan-like shopkeep kept squirrelled away in his back room. He brought it out to show me because he heard me exclaiming about some other copy of Dickens. This man’s stool was a pile of books. The whole store was piles of books. I don’t even remember there being shelves!

Although I have a certain vision for Biblio, I can also appreciate bookstores that are nothing like it. “The World’s 10 Best Bookshops,” an article written for the Guardian, showcases incredible places to buy books, not least of all because of their stunning architecture.

Paris’s Shakespeare and Co usually ends up on lists of favourites, but not on this one, and I have to confess I found that refreshing. Admittedly, I’ve never been, but from the pictures I can tell it’s not a place I’d enjoy all that much. I’m too claustrophobic and it’s a bit too eclectic for my taste. Not to say I’d never visit, but going upstairs to see Jeremy Mercer’s bed and such wouldn’t be on my priority list.

“The World’s 6 Coolest-Looking Bookstores” overlaps the Guardian article a bit, but with the addition of a very exciting kids’ bookshop in Beijing. I love kids’ books and have a nice collection of my own. And I love this store’s design, especially the nooks for people to curl up in. I have similar plans that stem from childhood, when I would hole up in nooks and crannies around the house (usually on the floor) or in the library (I lived in the library, especially since my mom worked there), squeezed under mounted shelves devouring Nancy Drews.

From these above articles, my very favourite, a place I must visit at some point, is Portugal’s Livraria Lello. Check out number 3 on the “Coolest-Looking” list and tell me you’re not in love!

My personal favourite bookshop is one I’ve visited in Ottawa. There are several about, in Toronto and Montreal as well, but Ottawa’s is the only one I’ve been to. It’s called Nicholas Hoare, and it’s beautiful. This is the closest I’ve found to Biblio, come to think of it. Scarily close. I totally forgot to look there last night while searching for a photo to use for my previous post.

If you’ve got a favourite bookstore, I’d love to see or hear about it. In fact, I’ll post it on my Everybody’s Favourites page!

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But 90 percent of us who buy books still get out of the house and go to the bookstore, to be among the books, yes, but also to be among other book buyers, the like-minded, even if we never say a word to them. — Lewis Buzbee, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop

This quote reminds me of that camaraderie I felt when after hours of seeing no one along our hikes in North Yorkshire (which was also nice), my sister and I would suddenly come upon a couple or two pairs of people, socks tucked into their hiking boots, walking poles astride, breath coming in gasps from exertion, and we’d all nod to each other and smile, pushing wide our ruddy cheeks, for in that brief moment we knew we all felt the same appreciation for the daily constitutional among the misty moors and docile sheep. We were all out there because we shared a common passion, and it truly is wonderful to acknowledge and recognize that without having to say a word.

But this quote speaks of the book enthusiast. I’ve been thinking about my bookshop tearoom idea yet again and about what I want to include, or not, to make it what I look for myself (surely others feel the same?) and to make it different from the other bookstores around, a place people come to because it’s their favourite and there’s nowhere else they go that makes them feel the same cozy way.

As a bookshopper, what’s important to me is that I have space around me: not necessarily a large place but that I have personal browsing space, or at least that I feel comfortable shopping. I want to feel non-intrusive.

I want the people around me to be like-minded, if it’s not too much to ask, made possible by the particular focus and atmosphere the shop exclusively offers: friendly, welcoming, warm, cultured, enthusiastic, appreciative.

I want to be able to reach all the books. I love the look of a ladder, but how many people actually use it? Usually the books within arm’s reach are the ones most looked at. Anything higher, for me, is inconvenient.

I would like the music to be non-invasive, whether lively or subduing. I want things to be organized in a way that makes sense, though not so orderly and clean or minimal that it looks as though no one “lives” there, and to not be surrounded by tables loaded with kitschy do-dads piled willy-nilly but to find tasteful gifts (stationery, cards, and book and tea related things) available in attractive displays.

I wish not to be overwhelmed, especially if the place is smaller—yet, I want to see many books to choose from. I want the lighting to be warm but bright enough, and not too white. Basically, I want to feel as though I’m in a sacred place, a sort of haven more than a church, so not the kind of place in which you feel you cannot touch or breathe or talk; rather, the kind in which you can breathe quite deeply, sigh contentedly from happiness, hugging a book to your chest in the anticipation of making a purchase, perhaps while speaking appreciatively about it to another (it’s not going to be one of those places in which you feel you must whisper).

I do want to be able to combine my two favourite things, which are books and tea. So being able to buy a good cup of tea while book shopping is important to me. I am not the type to sit and read half a book in a shop (home is where I enjoy my books best, though I’ll bring them along with me everywhere), but if I can browse through the books I’ve picked out just to read a few passages here and there and make sure they’re what I want, and do this while sipping tea, I’d be quite happy.

I want my bookshop to be my favourite place to visit, so it has to be welcoming on a personal level, and to include small but meaningful touches that make people very happy about their purchases, such as brown paper-wrapped books, or nice bags, or receipts in little envelopes, or something. A pretty coupon for your next purchase, perhaps— things that make you feel excited about what you bought beyond what you actually bought. You know?

What do you want most from your bookshop?

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