"It is ever changing and challenging but I still love coming to work most days and feel proud of our stores. I would encourage anyone to consider it as a career option or consider opening a store in their community. Your life will never be dull, and every day brings new books! What could be better than that?"
The story of Black Bond Books goes back multiple generations. Its name comes from a combination of Celia Black and Catherine Bond, the great grandmothers of current president Cathy Jesson. With six locations across Vancouver’s Lower Mainland, Black Bond Books is known for their cheerful and knowledgeable staff who make on-point reading recommendations. With recent and forthcoming moves into bigger retail spaces, we can’t wait to see how this beloved brand will continue to serve and delight the communities in which is operates.
We spoke with Cathy about living in a family of booksellers, her advocacy on behalf of indie bookstores, and their very influential bookstore pets.
Black Bond Books is a family operation that spans multiple generations. What is it like to live in a family of independent booksellers?
This has been our family business since 1963 when my mother took the reins of Black Bond Books in Brandon, MB. Over time, my brother Michael and sister Vicky joined my mom and I in running the store.
Eventually, Mike moved to the interior of BC and bought Mosaic Books, and my sister left to sail the world. We were all different people with different focuses and interests in the business. Mike introduced computerization to us in the 1970s, which was life changing. My mom was a strong leader and kept the peace in the stores. Even at 92, she still offers guidance and keeps a sharp eye on her local bookshop in Semiahmoo Mall.
My daughter Caitlin has recently become my new partner. This is exciting as Cait brings youth, enthusiasm, and 15 years of experience working with Black Bond!You have multiple stores across Vancouver’s Lower Mainland. Do collections differ from store to store? How are they curated?
We have six locations. Buying is done centrally at our warehouse, but our locations curate their selection and managers have a huge say in what they carry in their stores.
Our view has always been to encourage management run their location as if it was their own business, showcasing the love of books without the financial restraints. We try to be very collaborative with our buying decisions.
Your stores are known for outstanding customer service. The reviews are so consistent that it can’t be luck. Why is this so important to you?
Customer service is at the core of what we do and how we train our booksellers.We hire book people, and our love of books is what pulls us together as a company. I also feel empathy is the best trait for good and memorable customer service. Treat your customers how you would like to be treated, and it will pay huge dividends for your business in the short and long term.
Your stores are loved by locals and visitors alike. What do you think the role is of an indie bookstore within the community?
I think having an independent bookshop in your town is one of the core parts of what makes a community. The wild questions the team answers daily remind us that our stores can be “go to” places for answers on all manner of topics – not just books. It’s an important part of their daily lives and people rely on us to be there and be consistent.
What is something our readers might be surprised to learn about Black Bond Books?
I think people know quite a bit about our history, but the two brand names – Black Bond and the Book Warehouse – can sometimes confuse people.
This came about when Black Bond bought the last remaining Book Warehouse location eight years ago. Book Warehouse was the brand Vancouver knew and loved and changing the name to Black Bond just wasn’t worth the upset it may have caused.
Years later we opened a second Book Warehouse on Main Street in Vancouver to build on that history. And it has been a very successful location for us!
Readers may be familiar with your dachshund Milo – catalogue star and reading companion – but I’ve also seen some excellent recommendations from a pup named Shadow. What’s his story? He has very diverse tastes!
Milo comes to the warehouse with me most days. He is a cheerful and fun addition to our team. At 14 he is getting whiter – almost matching his mom – but he is as spry as he always was. Shadow is our fabulous buyer Jina's pup. Shadow loves to pose with his mom’s favourite book picks. We also work alongside Zeus, the Mexi pup of our Mainstreet manager and long-time bookseller, Maryann. Zeus showcases his mom’s favourite titles as well.
Bookstore dogs seems to be the way we roll. Most of our locations welcome dogs and treats are usually available!
You received some media attention in April for your #BoxedOut display. Why was it important for you to participate in that campaign?
The #BoxedOut display was very meaningful for us. I think it brought awareness of the serious impacts that buying online from Amazon has on independent stores.
The campaign worked well with indie bookstores south of the border. During the pandemic, indies all over upped their game online – innovating quickly and serving customers with speed and care – but they are still affected by Amazon. We continue to display signage from the campaign in our stores to keep advocating for people to shop local instead of buying from Amazon.
Can you share some upcoming new releases you and your team are excited about?
We are currently working on our fall catalogue – which is the most important marketing item in our stores. We carefully pick the best of the best books for its pages. We are a family of through-and-through readers and book lovers. One title I am excited to talk about it The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. It’s a departure from my love of mystery and suspense, admittedly, but a very good departure!
One of the best parts of being a bookseller is having access to advance reader copies. It allows us to share what we’re most excited about with our customers and with each other. We really are book lovers, and we hope it shows in our stores.
What is your favourite thing about being an independent bookseller?
I have been at this for a very long time – almost 50 years! I love my team, my customers, and the amazing community within the industry.
It is ever changing and challenging but I still love coming to work most days and feel proud of our stores. I would encourage anyone to consider it as a career option or consider opening a store in their community. Your life will never be dull, and every day brings new books! What could be better than that?
Caitlin and Cathy Jesson and Milo.