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“I work for myself surrounded by books, I get to bring my dogs to work, and we have emergency chocolate in the backroom. What’s not to love?”

Coho Books is an exciting independent bookstore in the heart of Campbell River, BC. It is known for its community involvement, excellent browsability, and passionate staff. We spoke with owner-operator Leah Jesse about merging the existing store with Willow Point Books, making the move back downtown, and favourite titles that are always in stock.

Can you tell us about the store—its history and how you became an indie bookseller?

Coho Books was established in 2007 by Pirkko Anderson on Shoppers Row. She sold it in 2015 to Jane Hirst and Lois Watson. When Lois retired, Jane Toso was brought in as a partner. I came on board in 2021 when Jane and Jane decided to retire. I’d been running Willow Point Books, a used bookstore, in 2019 and saw an opportunity to grow. So, I bought the store and merged it with Willow Point Books. 

I believe you recently moved to a new downtown location. Can you share your experience with moving and what you love about the new location?

I moved all of Coho Books inventory to the Willow Point Books location in 2021, because their lease was up downtown, and the Willow Point location was larger. In 2023, I found another location on Shoppers Row, moved everything back downtown and reopened last February. I love it downtown! There is more foot traffic, more events going on like the summer Farmer’s Market, and an active downtown business association.

How do you decide what books to sell?

I attend the Western Book Reps Association’s book fairs held in February and June in Victoria and online in October. Group buying sessions with publisher reps is a great experience, and it allows me to set up individual appointments with reps as needed. I use Bookmanager, which also has a “share” option so I can view what other bookstores bring in, which is a great asset. I also run BookNet reports to view national sales and use these to determine whether I want to bring a new title in.

I understand that you host events in-store and partner with the community on events. Why are these types of events important to you?

The store has hosted one open mic night as part of a downtown BIA series of events held in February 2023. A few local authors read excerpts of their novels, short stories, and poems. The event was well attended!

Coho Books also sponsored Campbell River’s annual Words on the Water festival scheduled this past March. The festival celebrated its 20th anniversary this year and authors in attendance included Yann Martel, Harrison Mooney, Lenore Newman, Karolyn Smardz Frost, Tsering Yangzom Lama, Billy-Ray Belcourt, Kevin Chong and Zarqa Nawaz.

Since promoting these kinds of events, I have realized that there is a vibrant literary community in Campbell River and North Island. I’m excited to be a part of it.

Can you tell us about your team?

I have three part time booksellers who are all artistic and love doing window displays. They enjoy helping customers with book recommendations and finding specific titles in store. One staff member especially likes receiving new books, so they get a sneak peek at new titles.

I also have two bookstore dogs who are local celebrities—customers love them and get upset when they’re not in store.

We often ask booksellers about upcoming books they love but I’d love to know: do you have any backlist titles that are customer favourites and always in stock? 

Anything by Sarah J. Maas. We call it the “Maas Attack.”

Other popular titles include The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and books by Brené Brown and Gabor Maté. Likewise, books by local authors like John Vaillant and Michael Christie always do well.

What do you love most about being an independent bookseller?

I work for myself surrounded by books, I get to bring my dogs to work, and we have emergency chocolate in the backroom. What’s not to love?


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We wish to acknowledge the support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund.

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