By Barry Coulter
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of a business that has maintained a significant presence in the downtown core.
Bookstores are an important part of the Cranbrook’s cultural and economic make-up, and the bookstore that is now Huckleberry Books is a true palimpsest — through changes of ownership, name and location, the Book Shoppe/Lotus Books/Huckleberry Books has, along with Pages Book Emporium, given Cranbrook’s downtown its literary throughline for the past decades. As well, the business has been operated by female entrepreneurs for the past half century.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, according to Erin Dalton, owner of Huckleberry Books. When Tommy Wheeler opened the Book Shoppe on 10th Avenue South in 1971, along with her husband Bob, several thousands books had already arrived to fill its shelves, but there were delays in shipping which meant a good portion of the stock was delayed.
Today, Dalton is awaiting the arrival of stock in time for Christmas — the ongoing pandemic and recent flooding in the Lower Mainland has meant delays in shipping.
The Wheelers’ Book Shoppe opened in 1971. Elaine Doran took over the Book Shoppe from Tommy Wheeler, and Joanne Bellanger took the store over from Doran in 2000 — changing the name to Lotus Books when she did.
Dalton started working at Lotus Books in 2001, and when Bellanger put it the store up for sale in 2012, Dalton moved back to Cranbrook from Vancouver to take it over. She moved the location to 9th Avenue South two and a half years ago.
Over the years, each owner has invested her own personality into the business — perhaps there is no business like a bookstore that reflects the personality of its operators.
“You will find that more in a business like a bookstore,” Dalton said. “Booksellers tend to be book lovers first and business people second. I worked at a management level for Joanne, and had some experience there. But it’s not the same when you’re the one writing the cheques.
“I thought I knew what I was getting into, but I didn’t. I’m glad I didn’t — it might have scared me off.”
Cranbrook is blessed to have a number of bookstores, Dalton says. And as for the future of the industry in these increasing digital times, well, “we’re going to be just fine. A number of bookstores have actually opened over the past months. Bookstores keep on keeping on. People still want to read books, and have that tactile experience.
“We’ve been through so many lean times and come through. You feel you’re the steward of something, a community space. It’s more than an ‘industry.’”
When Wheeler opened the Book Shoppe in 1971, the Townsman article announcing it promised “nothing in the Shoppe but books, books, books.” But in that regard, times have certainly changed. These days, no book store could survive on books alone. “Everyone needs a sideline,” Dalton said.
A book store also needs the people around it.
“You don’t get to 50 years without a community supporting you,” Dalton said. “So I feel I need to pay it forward.”
Huckleberry Books is marking the 50-year anniversary with a number of events in house and on social media — “Mostly by asking people about their memories, especially the older iterations of the store.”
There is also product to give away for a fundraiser, with proceeds going to the Foundry — a service for youth health and wellness- and the Ktunaxa Kinbasket Child & Family Services Society’s Christmas hamper program.