“The idea of the ‘third place’ is foundational to Richard and Colleen’s vision. Our core values impact everything we do. We aim to make the store itself a community space (Come talk to us! Hang out for a while!).”
River Bookshop, in Amherstburg, ON, opened in August 2020. The stylish and warm shop carries a selection of books for all ages and is guided by four values: educate, entertain, inspire, and engage. We spoke to lead bookseller, Meghan Desjardins, about the store’s history, its approach to curation, and its goal to be a “third place” for community members.
Can you tell us a bit about the history of the store? How did River Bookshop come to be?
It’s hard to believe that River Bookshop opened right in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that’s our origin story. As you can imagine that complicated things quite a bit. But the inspiration for the store was very simple—it came from Richard Peddie’s belief that every small town should have a good bookstore. Amherstburg hadn’t had one in years, and now we’re here, trying to fill that much-needed gap in the community. The store certainly had challenges opening during the pandemic, but we’ve settled in and we’re so happy to be here.
What kinds of books do you carry? What do your customers look for when they visit your store?
Right now, many customers come in looking for contemporary romance! The trend is fascinating and I’m doing everything I can to supply those titles for our community. They also come to us for bestsellers, interesting fiction, local history (like our very own Heritage Buildings of Amherstburg), local authors, and children’s books. It’s important to me that we carry all of those, as well as titles that can surprise and intrigue our customers—the books they stumble upon while browsing.
Our customers can also buy books on our website and we’ve curated categories to help them find things they might like. Do keep an eye out for a new website update, which we’re currently working on, which will let us highlight new titles in even more creative ways!
In addition to books, your store carries a wonderful selection of non-book items like journals, fountain pens, puzzles, candles, and more. Can you tell us how you source and select these items?
We do carry a selection of items that we think book lovers will like, which we choose based on our own areas of expertise. For example, Colleen Peddie (co-owner, with Richard Peddie) curates our puzzle selection because she’s a puzzler herself and wants to offer the highest quality to our community. I curate our fountain pen selection because that’s a big passion of mine. I firmly believe the pens we carry are the best in the stationery world. We choose products that we have personal experience with and that we know our customers will love too.
Your goal is to be the “third place” for community members. Why is this important to you and how do you meet this goal in the day-to-day?
The idea of the “third place” is foundational to Richard and Colleen’s vision. Our core values—educate, entertain, inspire, engage—impact everything we do. We aim to make the store itself a community space (Come talk to us! Hang out for a while!). We also have tons of events going on every month like readings, book club initiatives, partnerships with local businesses, and more. We’re also fortunate to have a beautiful event space above the bookstore called Hole in the Wall, which is plush and spacious, equipped with an audio-visual system, and allows us to host as many events as our hearts desire. (Which is currently very many!)
What is one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had in the store? We won’t ask you to pick your absolute favourite. That’s too hard!
It’s hard to choose just one! In general, I love it when staff and customers connect over their shared love of a book. Sometimes, it happens with two customers who don’t know each other! There is so much joy in the bond that comes from these moments.
What are some of the books you love to introduce to your customers?
These days, when given the chance, I talk a lot about:
In each case, it’s because the book illuminates an experience that’s under-represented but important. And because it thoroughly wow-ed me.
What do you love most about being an independent bookseller?
Sometimes you find a book that enriches your life—maybe it makes you feel seen, or helps you understand the world a little better or love it a little more. I love being a bookseller because I can help people find those books. As an indie bookseller specifically, I have so many opportunities to talk to customers directly, as well as the freedom to prioritize that experience above every other metric. Without a doubt, that’s my favourite thing about this job.