“I think planning any new business is really difficult, but a bookstore has some unique challenges, not the least of which is everyone telling you that you’re crazy for opening a bookstore.”
The Spaniel’s Tale, located in the beloved Hintonburg/Wellington West neighbourhood of Ottawa, ON, opened in August of this year. The welcoming and inclusive shop offers a curated selection of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books, with a special focus on local authors and artisans. We spoke to co-owner, Cole Davidson, about achieving this long-held dream and the joy of being an indie bookseller.
Congratulations on the official launch of your store! Can you tell us how The Spaniel’s Tale came to be?
Opening a bookstore has long been a dream of ours, but it was always a down-the-road, maybe-in-retirement type of dream. Two things really spurred us into action: the COVID-19 pandemic and my grandmother’s dementia diagnosis, when I watched her retirement dreams evaporate overnight. We decided if this was something we were serious about, there was no sense in waiting because tomorrow is never guaranteed.
What was the business planning process like? Can you share some of the unique challenges you faced and how you stayed motivated?
I think planning any new business is really difficult, but a bookstore has some unique challenges, not the least of which is everyone telling you that you’re crazy for opening a bookstore. We found a lot of support with CIBA and the ABA, as well as in some of the Facebook groups for booksellers, and of course, from fellow booksellers here in Ottawa. They kept us motivated when we had doubts, especially when we were looking for our location. That was our greatest challenge: finding the right location and a landlord willing to rent to a start-up, let alone a bookstore. I’m not sure if we would have persevered without the encouragement of other local bookstores, especially Lisa at Octopus Books and Jim at Perfect Books.
The name of your store is unique. What inspired it?
We have an English Springer Spaniel named Skype. We often talk about what Skype does during the day when we are at work and he’s had a lot of careers over his life. He always has a tale to tell.
The store’s neighbourhood is a local favourite. How have you connected with the community since opening?
The support from the community has been incredible and far beyond our expectations. We had a line up outside waiting to get in our opening day, and people were lined up to pay all day – the store was packed! Local politicians, including the Mayor, stopped by to wish us well and we got plenty of great media coverage in our local paper and on CTV. We even got to promote some of our favourite local authors on CTV Morning Live Ottawa. Everyone in the neighbourhood tells us the same thing when they visit: this community needed a bookstore.
We chose the Hintonburg/Wellington West neighbourhood because it was really missing an independent bookstore. Ottawa has a few successful indies, and each one is unique and reflective of their neighbourhoods. It’s been a little over 10 years since Collected Works, the last indie to operate in this neighbourhood closed its doors. We spoke to the former owners of that store, as well as the owners of the other bookstore owners in Ottawa and everyone said the same thing: this community needs a bookstore. The demographics are perfect for our type of store and when we found the perfect location with plenty of foot traffic (and a landlord willing to work with us), we knew it was time to pull the trigger.
We’ve already had the opportunity to work with other local businesses to support one of our neighbours, the Parkdale Food Centre, by participating in the Taste of Wellington Festival, and we’re working with the Ottawa Trans Library, just down the street from us, to host a book launch later this month. We’re really eager to find more opportunities to work with community partners, including the local library branch right across the street from us.
Can you describe the inside of the store for us – the look, the vibe, what visitors can expect when they walk in?
My husband and I had different ideas for what our store should look like. While I wanted light, modern, and beachy, he wanted warm, dark, and classic. In the end, we landed somewhere in the middle. It’s a bright, open, airy space with dark accent walls. The bookcases are clean and bright, but the tables and counter are dark and antique. I think we’ve arrived at a really nice compromise of new and old. We’re not a very large store – only about 900 square feet of selling space – but we’ve done our best to make the space feel comfortable and inviting.
Can you share some recent or upcoming releases you’re excited about?
I’ve actually been reading a lot less since we opened the store, probably because I’m spending far too many hours working in the shop. I’m excited for Richard Osman’s new book, The Bullet That Missed, but I haven’t read The Man Who Died Twice so I need to get caught up first. Likewise, I’m excited for Louise Penny’s upcoming addition to her Chief Inspector Gamache series but I’m not caught up on that series either. Recently, I was happy to see the collector’s edition of Red, White, and Royal Blue, but that’s just because I’m a softy for romance novels that make me smile.
What do you love most about being an independent bookseller?
I love being part of the bookselling community. Everyone has been very welcoming and helpful, from other booksellers to our publisher reps. On a practical side, I love the feeling I get when someone asks for a book, and we actually have it in stock! What I love most, though, is walking past our kids’ section and seeing a kid sitting on the rug reading a book.