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“What I love the most—and what has genuinely surprised me the most—is how much this bookstore means to people within the community. I knew an independent bookstore was needed in Medicine Hat, but the outpouring of support and enthusiasm has humbled me beyond words.” 

River Bee Books is the newest independent bookstore in Medicine Hat, AB. This wonderful store officially opened on April 29, 2023 (also Canadian Independent Bookstore Day!) and its creation was a full-family effort. We spoke with owner Bridget Neigum about her approach to curation, what customers can expect, and what she loves about being an independent bookseller.

Congratulations on opening your store! I bet you’ve had a busy year. Can you tell us how River Bee Books came to be?

Thank you for the congratulations and you are correct—it has been an incredibly busy year!

River Bee Books came from a long-held wish to contribute to the heart of our city. It was my intention to contribute to the overall ecosystem of our downtown core while bringing a beautiful browsing experience to the people and visitors of Medicine Hat. Bookstores go hand in hand with quaint coffee shops and I always felt there was space and potential to bring this to the centre of our city. And, based on feedback I’ve received from the wonderful people throughout the last year, it seems this was something the community also deeply desired.

I was an Xray technologist for over a decade at our local clinic prior to opening River Bee. So, needless to say, the learning curve of opening a bookstore has been very steep. However, it has also been incredibly rewarding and I feel I am contributing in an equally important way to the overall health of our community.

Can you describe the space for us—the look, the vibe, and what visitors can expect when they walk in?

The space is a lovingly restored century-old building with original brick and ornate tin ceilings. The exposed brick is an important aspect of Medicine Hat history as, for the better part of the century, we were known down here as “the clay trade” and exported a great deal of pottery and bricks. Right off the bat, stepping into the bookstore feels a bit like stepping back in time. I had a particular vibe I wanted to create, so a great space was of utmost importance.

More than anything, I find that people are grateful to have the experience of browsing the store and the magic of so many great books surrounding them. The tagline for River Bee is “stay curious.” This means to not only staying curious about what is between the pages in a book, but also about the experiences and people in our lives.

What kinds of books do you carry? How do you approach curation?

Building the inventory was definitely one of the most daunting tasks I faced while opening the store. I decided to approach it with an open mind and give myself time to discover what our community gravitated towards. Now that we’re 10 months in, I have a much clearer idea. For example, classics have had huge popularity in our store as well as the children’s books, history, and romance.

Overall, I stay close to the model of a general interest bookstore in order to serve the entirety of our community—there is a bit of everything for everyone. Meeting people and discussing their favourite literary experiences has also helped to build the curiosity within the store. My customers are such an important part of the equation, and I am truly thankful for everything they have helped me discover within the walls of River Bee.

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?

We have had exceptional talent come from the Medicine Hat area. Probably one of the most popular local authors that I always have on hand is Mark Sakamoto. His book, Forgiveness, won Canada reads in 2018 and is often picked up by locals and tourists as alike. There is so much of Medicine Hat intertwined within the story. His newest children’s book, Shizue’s Path, is also very popular. Otherwise, I consistently keep the Alberta and Canada sections stocked with writers such as Sharon Butala and coffee table books such as Abandoned Alberta, as they are areas our clientele loves to explore.

What do you love most about being an independent bookseller?

What I love the most—and what has genuinely surprised me the most—is how much this bookstore means to people within the community. I knew an independent bookstore was needed in Medicine Hat, but the outpouring of support and enthusiasm has humbled me beyond words. I’ve had customers tell me that the space makes them feel calm, alive, and welcomed—when they are having challenging times, walking through the doors is the best part of their day.

The last few years have been trying for many of us. My hope is that River Bee is just one more piece in the puzzle of our community connectedness. We are all integral to the places we live. I am so grateful that River Bee gets to serve this community and spotlight its love of the written words within her walls.


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

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