At Vancity, we value the unique story behind each and every business we have the pleasure of working alongside. We connected with Vancity member Patricia Massy, owner and operator of Massy Books, to learn more about the history of its beginnings and the community initiatives her bookstore is organizing.
Tell us a bit about your business.
Massy Books is an Indigenous-owned bookstore located in Chinatown on the unceded and occupied territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. We carry both new and used books of all genres and understand bookstores to be important sites of cultural activity across disciplines. Our space prioritizes not only selling books, but acting as an important hub within the creative community. With monthly exhibitions and many book launches and readings throughout the week, Massy Books has grown into a place for creatives and authors from various disciplines to gather – and we’ve recently publicly launched Massy Arts Society to oversee this activity.
How did Massy Books get started? Is there a backstory?
Massy Books has been established since 2015, and has gone through significant change and growth since its humble beginnings. I began selling books online while attending university, and as the collection of books grew beyond the confines of my basement, I decided to move into a warehouse. Quickly realizing that working alone in a large cold space was unfulfilling, I went to sell books at the Eastside Flea Market. From there I opened a sort of pop-up shop on Main and 5th, and then the permanent location we now have on East Georgia.
What can we find at your bookstore?
We sell both used and new books of all genres, including rare, out-of-print collectible titles, newly published bestsellers and local small run publications. We keep all our literary sections up-to-date with refined selections to meet everyone’s interests, and pride ourselves on our expansive Indigenous selection which features literature, history, poetry, languages, and nation specific texts.
How has your business been impacted over the past 6-8 months?
The onset of COVID in BC shifted our retail work to predominantly online and phone sales, and our events have also been radically restructured. We’ve seen an enormous surge in online orders, selling more bundles of books across the province and beyond than ever before. COVID has also ignited new collaborations with our neighboring businesses and other independent bookstores. The overnight switch in closing our doors meant we had to watch out for one another and be creative in how we might highlight what books we have and extend our reach.
The ongoing calls for racial justice in light of the murder of George Floyd has meant an intense increase in interest of titles we have always wanted to highlight. Our critical race studies section has continually sold out of many titles as people confront such necessary work. We’ve been able to introduce new sections such as Prison Abolition to encourage this growing interest and demand.
How has Vancity supported you in running your own business?
Vancity has been vital in helping us get through the last 6 months. During the ‘Vancity Loves Locals’ week, we sold enough gift certificates to pay our rent for three months, which allowed us to make up for the lost income we faced during the beginning of the COVID shut down. Vancity’s support also helped us extend our reach into communities outside Vancouver. Providing customers with $25.00 to spend in store really encouraged people to see how easy and effective it is to buy from independent bookstores online. We’re forever grateful to Support Local BC and Vancity for this partnership and for helping their small business clients in a time of great need. I’m a Vancity member for life!
What’s a piece of advice you’d give to others thinking about starting their own business?
Simplify. When people are willing to help out, gracefully accept. Be willing to listen to other people’s ideas and suggestions and include them in your decisions. Hire people that are smarter than you so they can fill in a knowledge gap within the store, and challenge you to keep on learning! Starting a business is a labour of love, and the costs and time needed to make it successful are always larger than you can anticipate. For those looking to get started in Vancouver, some very tangible advice is to resist undertaking big renovations when leasing a space. Get a realtor, read the fine print, and make sure the landlord is willing to sign a demo clause. If you are planning on doing any renovation, get a commercial contractor to assess the space, to avoid undertaking more work than is doable.
Do you have any initiatives that you would like our audience to know about?
Our annual fundraiser for the Battered Women’s Support Services and Writer’s Exchange is now on, with a chance to win $10,000! This 50/50 fundraiser has ticket bundles available from $10 – $75, with the draw happening in time for Christmas! Massy Books donates time and administrative costs in running the fundraiser and receives none of the proceeds – all proceeds are split between the lucky winner and two charities very close to our hearts.
Battered Women’s Support Services are part of a global feminist anti-violence movement. The Writer’s Exchange gets inner-city kids excited about reading, writing and their own potential. You can find out more about this fundraiser at www.massybooks.com/fundraiser/.
How can people support you?
Continue to shop local. Explore our website, including our curated book lists to get inspired to read and participate in storytelling. Follow along as we launch new books, and consider buying your holiday gifts early! We ship across Canada and the US.
Where can people get in touch and learn more about you?
Vancity proudly supports small businesses at every stage through a number of initiatives. Learn more about our variety of products and services, including the ones mentioned above.