Analog Books, "a unique spot for books and thoughts," opened in Lethbridge toward the end of 2020 and has already been awarded Best New Business in Lethbridge. Co-owner Scott Warris filled us in on the welcome that they (Scott, co-owner Penny and their daughter Willow) have received in their new home, the distinct look of the shop, their vision for the future of the store, and their very popular store cat, Hugo.
In 2021 you were awarded best new business in Lethbridge. Congratulations! What do you think has contributed to your success and the support you’ve received from your community?
As much as we would like to take full credit for that success so far, the reality is, in a strange twist of irony some of that credit must go to the pandemic itself (or at least the results of it). When we started down this road over 4 years ago, we had suspected there may be others in the community who felt as we did, that Lethbridge could support an independent. With us moving into the city from a small town 150km west, we had no idea of the actual size of that demand and no way to accurately measure it. So right from the start we knew there was a definite level of risk. Well before any hint of the pandemic, we crafted a business plan that we hoped would mitigate as much of that risk as possible. We visited many other independents across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.. We combined that research with past visits to international bookstores from our 30+ years of travel. (Penny spent many years as an adventure travel consultant). We have tried to implement ideas gathered from those stores into Analog Books. A sort of best of the best, or at least what we personally found the most appealing. A big part of that is the ambiance of the space; the warmth, the tone, the character. We wanted to create a place that people felt comfortable in; felt safe in. In essence, felt at home in. Turns out, with the pandemic restrictions and limitations, this type of space was exactly what so many of us needed and longed for. Many of our "third places" - libraries, theatres, churches, gyms, restaurants, cafes ended up closed or restricted over the past year. However, even though we were limited to just 8 customers at a time, we have never been mandated to close. We feel the reasons for our success so far has been the combination of the space we built, the ability to continuously receive guests, the desire in the community to support independents in addition to a multi-year pent-up demand for a community based, owner-operated bookstore.
Analog Books has a very distinct look. Can you tell us about the style you’ve embraced and what inspires you?
The style is primarily Vintage/Steampunk. Not only did it fit well with the Analog name, it's a style we as a family have adopted many times for events such as Comic Con, Halloween parties etc. One of our favourite authors is Brian Selznick and specifically "The Invention of Hugo Cabret". The Martin Scorsese movie, "Hugo" managed to play up the period style to great effect and we have tried to emulate that look. For example we focused on a dark colour pallet with a flat black ceiling and all black fixtures and millwork. The concept was to have the books themselves provide the colour and be the focus of the shop (as they should be). To make that happen a large portion of our build-out budget was spent on lighting details, specifically over 125 individual 4000K LED flood and spot lights with high CRI (colour rendering index) ratings. Finding a source for these in the middle of the pandemic proved to be one of the most challenging aspects of the build. Three separate shipments were lost getting through customs (one never was found), showing up just 2 days before we opened. All of that effort was worth it however considering the many positive comments we get on the lighting alone.
There were many, many other details we focused on in the design and build such as an actual working fireplace; rail shelving above the bookcases around the entire store to showcase antique cameras, projectors, typewriters and local art on consignment; lots of copper and metal finishing and our brand colours and logo discretely included throughout. Many customers comment how the store makes them "feel" so comfortable and relaxed. That was the response we were hoping for and we think all those details came together to create that ideal ambiance.
Hugo, your store cat, has become a bit of a local celebrity. Has it gone to his head?
He certainly is popular, and to an extent we hadn't really anticipated. We had visited other bookstores with cats and found them quite charming however we didn't necessarily plan to have a cat initially. We had concerns around potentially offending customers with allergies or those who simply did not like cats. Hugo started joining us in the store during the renovations last summer and we were intrigued with how relaxed he was around the construction. Also with how much the trades enjoyed his company, even with his penchant to climb up ladders and scaffolding. He was bringing so much visible joy to everyone he encountered. He was so calm and relaxed around people, especially kids, that we decided to let him stay in-store on a trial basis. It didn't take us long to realize how much people loved to visit him and how they would make special trips with their families just to see him. Of course, rarely would they leave without a book or two...or more. Hugo just takes it all in stride and true to his relaxed demeanour, gives in to anyone who requests some "Hugo Time".
How do you curate your store’s collection?
Our original order was created after spending months studying what was most popular in other stores, using Bookmanager and Pubstock. Since we had no history we looked at what other stores our size had in stock/on order. That information was invaluable for us as we had no experience in that area. Our store opening was Black Friday and we were blown away by how much of our original inventory left the store that initial weekend. Of course Christmas purchases are very different from February purchases and we are learning that our customers love (or are discovering) the classics, social science, queer and Indigenous titles. It has been a huge learning curve and is the most fascinating part of managing the store for Penny.
Can you tell us about your connection to the local arts community?
Lethbridge has a fantastic arts community for both performing and visual artists. The local university and college have excellent programs and the downtown area where we are located has multiple galleries and performance venues that are well supported in normal times. We look forward to the future when we can regularly have performances in store. Additionally, the rail shelf that runs the entire perimeter is divided into shadow-type display boxes that we make available to artists on a consignment basis. This is proving very popular and is steadily growing as word gets out in the arts community. Plans are in place for a small stage at the front of the store to support musicians and events.
You create beautiful window and in-store displays. In terms of the display translating into sales, which has been most successful?
Even though everyone had warned us - we didn't anticipate how popular puzzles would be before and since Christmas. Our local author and local outdoor activity displays are the most popular at the moment. Customers are eager this year to explore their own backyard, and fortunately our backyard is Southern Alberta from the coulees to the mountains therefore guides for hiking, identifying flowers, birds and wildlife and local gardening are literally flying off the shelves. In addition to the artist scene we are fortunate to have numerous local authors that our customers are happy to support.
What is your favourite thing about the work that you do?
Meeting our community, albeit mask to mask. With all the restrictions we've had to endure over the past year, we consider ourselves fortunate to be in the unique position to still meet new people everyday. Book lovers tend to be some of the best people to meet. They're usually more open-minded and rational with broader, less polarized opinions and just overall nice folks. That's the best part of running the bookstore, by far.
Can you share the upcoming new releases you’re most excited about?
Scott: Anthony Doerr's - "Cloud Cuckoo Land". His last book, All The Light We Cannot See remains one of my all time favourites.
Penny: Louise Penny’s - “The Madness of Crowds”. We are a huge Louise Penny fan and have an entire section dedicated to her work.
Willow: Casey McQuinston’s - “One Last Stop”. I am a big fan of her work and must admit I’ve read the ARC and absolutely loved it.
You had a fantastic response to Canadian Independent Bookstore Day. What are you hearing from your customers about why independent bookstores are important to them?
Back to that idea of the Third Place. Call it nostalgia, sentimentality, or even schmaltz, the reality is we all long for belonging. We want to be part of something that makes us feel good and accepted for what we are as individuals. Big-box, national chains, corporate stores (and definitely web stores) just can’t duplicate the personal touch of an owner curated and operated small business. In our case, we live right across the street from the store in a downtown condo. I think our customers recognize the commitment we have made to the store and to the community and they sincerely want to see the place succeed, survive and thrive. They tell us exactly that and show it by supporting us and telling their friends and colleagues.
What is your vision for the store’s future?
There's so much of our original vision and plans that we have deliberately held back on (or been forced to through restrictions). From the ground up we designed the store to be a convertible space. Since we built all of the fixtures ourselves, many are on wheels and can be moved aside to create space for all sorts of book-related events. Four of the bookcases open up to reveal a small commercial kitchen and refreshment serving area as well as access to an event washroom. Other items ready to install include a small stage, projection and PA system. We also held off completing the children's area due to the social distancing requirements but plans are in place for a large mural and kid's storytime area. Some of these plans have been modified and upgraded in anticipation of what post-pandemic in-store events may look like such as a hybrid system of remote access for authors/presenters in front of an in-store audience.
In many ways, the pandemic has presented more opportunities for us than obstacles. Since we built-out and opened in the middle of it, we had the advantage of flexibility and modifying our plans as needed. We had no sales history to compare to and our expectations remained malleable and adaptable. We are now confident we made the right choice to proceed back in May of 2020 and so far the results appear to have exceeded those expectations.