“It’s where you can come together to talk books, talk literature and recite random poetry.”
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Sep 13, 2020 • • 2 minute read
When Annabel Townsend thinks about a bookstore, she thinks of a community-focused store that sells the works of local authors and provides a space for literature enthusiasts to gather.
This is a role she feels independent bookstores fill best, so when she moved from Great Britain to Regina eight years ago, she was saddened to realize the Queen City did not have any such stores.
Feeling the lack of an independent bookstore, she decided to open her own.
In January, she found the perfect location at 2127 Albert Street and began preparing for an April opening.
Just as it did for nearly everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic in March brought those plans to a standstill. With boxes and boxes of boxes already cluttering up her home, Townsend pivoted tactics and began selling books online in themed packages.
Then, as restrictions loosened, Townsend was able to revamp her plans to open a brick and mortar store.
On Saturday, the months of planning and waiting came to fruition as The Penny University Bookstore officially opened.
Townsend admitted the bookstore’s name is a little unusual, saying it comes from her studies of the coffee industry — in which she has a PhD — where she learned about the first coffee shops in London in the 17th century.
“They were always filled with scholars and poets and politicians sounding off,” she said.
“They got nicknamed the penny university because you could go and get a university education by listening to other people for the price of a penny cup of coffee, and I thought that was pretty neat.”
To some extent, that’s exactly the atmosphere Townsend hopes to create — a place where people come to talk about literature and learn from each other. The bookstore also features a coffee bar (although that will not open for another couple of weeks as she waits on the final approval from the Saskatchewan Health Authority), which Townsend hopes will help cultivate a more social space.
“I want it to kind of be a literary hub … It’s where you can come together to talk books, talk literature and recite random poetry,” she said.
“I want to focus on doing the events here and having signings and spoken word nights.”
Already Townsend said she has had someone approach her with the idea of starting a Sherlock Holmes appreciation group in the space.
“That sounds ideal. That’s exactly the sort of thing I would like in here,” she said.
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In an industry dominated by the bookstore chain Indigo and online retailers like Amazon, Townsend recognized she can’t compete directly with them. Instead, she believes The Penny University Bookstore offers something different.
She is putting more emphasis on local authors and is glad to provide them with a platform to sell their books.
“With a lot of local authors, it’s hard for them to get their books in (Indigo) because they’re a huge company and they don’t respond very quickly to first-time authors,” Townsend said.
“I can offer a more localized and personalized touch … and I think I will be able to sort of let people connect with actual authors a lot easier.”