Monday, June 12, 2017

So Long Chapters Ancaster, And Thanks For All The Books

I arrived home this evening to an interesting invitation for a new bookstore that is opening, or rather re-opening in Ancaster.

My heart actually skipped a beat when I saw the invite.

Because the invite was to the "New Indigo Ancaster."

Mailer invite to the New Indigo Ancaster

Why did my heart skip a beat?

Perhaps because my mind raced back, all those years, to a significant change in my life. The main reason I moved from Ottawa to Hamilton.

It was to open the original incarnation of that particular location -- then known as Chapters Ancaster.

Back in early 1996 I was working in Ottawa where my career in bookselling had started in 1992, the same year I graduated from Carleton University. In 1992 I had been working four jobs at the time: Part-Time at the Coles on Sparks Street, Part-Time at Theatre Operations at Carleton University, Part-Time as a Security Guard for Wackenhut Security (mostly at Lansdowne Park) and Part-Time for PM Displays. With those four part-time jobs, and taking as many hours as I could from each, I was working anywhere between 40 to 60 hours per week. Because I was working so many hours, and usually during Friday and Saturday nights, I was rarely out spending money, which was good, because I was mostly making minimum wage. I really needed those pennies.

Once 1993 hit, I took on a full-time role as a bookseller and ended up losing hours from my other part-time jobs; but I still managed to put in an additional 20 or more hours from several of those other jobs. I just wasn't able to take as many regular shifts by then.

But it was too late by then. Because I was bit by the bookselling bug. I then ended up moving into management with Coles, which ended up merging with SmithBooks, the rival company, and moving from store to store in the Ottawa area as an Assistant Manager. (Ironically, while working full time at Coles, I had a benefits package, even being a manager meant I was earning far less than I would have had I continued to work those multiple jobs. But that was no matter, because my passion for bookselling took hold)

But it was in 1997 that I caught my "big break" - I applied for a position at the Chapters in Ancaster and become one of three managers of that store: The Product Manager. I was in charge of managing the inventory of and helping to top off the local buying for a store that, at the time, boasted 100,000 different titles. (In a funny reflection about money, I remember drooling over the $26,000 I was earning in order to work a minimum of 60 hours a week helping to run that store. But I was a man possessed by the bookselling bug. The work itself is what motivated me, and is what continues to motivate me -- fortunately, the money I'm earning has grown as I've continued to move up and along)

The original look of the Chapters Ancaster with its "Flying Book" logo

Leaving Ottawa, a city that I adored behind, I made the move with my wife (who was from Hamilton) to her home-town. Opening the store was a tremendous feat. Working several weeks of 16 hour days was incredibly taxing (of course, I had already gotten used to that from early in the 90's working multiple jobs). But it was a satisfying accomplishment. The Chapters Ancaster celebrated its grand opening in the Fall of 1997.

And it denoted a significant and important turning point in my own career, not just as a bookseller, but also as a writer (and heck, yes, as a Book Nerd)

Being closer to the "hub" of Toronto publishing by being in Hamilton allowed me befriend some amazing Toronto area writers. I got to know and hang out with folks I had only ever previous read: people like Robert J. Sawyer and Edo van Belkom. Not only did I get to hang out with them, but I was able to organize fun day-long reading events at the store by calling upon them all.

Writers Appearing at Sci-Fi Saturday at the Chapters Ancaster (1998?) - Left to right: David Shtogryn, Edo van Belkom, Carolyn Clink, Robert J. Sawyer, Douglas Smith, Andrew Weiner, Mark Leslie, Sally Tomasevic, Marcel Gagne

And it was when I was working at the Chapters in Ancaster that I first met Julie E. Czerneda and Kelly Armstrong, who have since also become friends. (Julie was the editor who bought my very first "pro sale rate" short story, "Looking Through Glass" which was published in the Anthology Stardust in the Tales from the Wonder Zone series in 2002. And I have also published one of Kelly's stories in one of my own anthologies, Campus Chills).

It was from the Chapters Ancaster that I moved to Chapters Online on Peter Street in Toronto in 1999, which led to meeting and first working with Michael Tamblyn, Noah Genner and Doug Minett -- three amazing book industry leaders who I learned a lot from and whose vision and leadership I continue to admire. From there, I moved back to Hamilton to be the Book Operations Manager at Titles Bookstore at McMaster University from 2006 until 2011, where I continued to meet even more amazing book industry folks and booksellers, including brilliant campus bookstore geniuses like Todd Anderson and Chris Tabor among so many other great people via my role on the board of the Canadian Booksellers Association. That path eventually led me back to Toronto to Kobo where I reconnected with Michael Tamblyn and Mike Serbinis (the former CTO at Chapters/Indigo who moved on to found Kobo), where I've been since 2011, in a role that feels like I was born for.

It has been a tremendous journey, with so many amazing moments along the way, but it all stems back to that critical move to Hamilton to open up the Chapters in Ancaster. So many of my accomplishments in my bookselling career as well as in my career as a writer can be traced through the wonderful connections and people that I got to know and work with.

So many of the things in my personal life that I am incredibly grateful for involve being here in the Hamilton area and the many people I wouldn't have met had I not been here in this area, including the Love of my life, whom I was fortunate enough to meet back in 2014 shortly after my marriage had ended.

But that is another story.

For now, I'm reflecting on the end of the Chapters Ancaster, that life-changing career move location that will always hold a special place in my heart.

Yes, I closed the "chapter" of my life that was the Chapters Ancaster long before it declared its own final "chapter" and is being re-branded and refreshed.

But in my heart, the Indigo Ancaster will always be Chapters to me.