Best of Halifax » Reasons we love the city

It's been one for the books

How local bookstores helped us make it through our time at home.


  • The Coast

In the Best Of survey we asked, "Before Covid, what did a perfect day in Halifax look like for you?" One reader's answer? "I'm lying on my back on Citadel Hill with a good book."

This bookworm is not alone. When Mike Hamm first came back to work at The Bookmark, he expected things to be quiet. Instead, "both our phone lines never stopped ringing from the minute we got into the store until we left," the store's manager and buyer says. "We started to work almost like a warehouse," he explains, fulfilling more online orders than ever and offering curbside pickup and a bicycle-based delivery service.

It's a familiar tune for Paul MacKay, manager of King's Co-op Bookstore, as he spent most of the pandemic delivering books by bike. "I'm pitching being anti-Amazon in a way: Place an order and it'll show up at your house," MacKay says. "There was one I did that was an older lady who was self-isolating," he recalls. "I saw her through the window and she saw me and she was kind of waving. And you could just kind of see the look on her face that like, I saved her from her own mind for a while with a book she was looking for. So that was weirdly touching. That moved me in a way I wasn't expecting."

Across the city a theme emerged during the pandemic: We wanted to read, both to transport ourselves and to learn (and un-learn) about racism and systemic injustices. Small shops like Bookmark, the King's Co-op and independent newsstand Atlantic News doubled down on their community hub status, becoming centres to fill our brains and our time with anti-racist literature, escapist reading and even jigsaw puzzles. Without the ritual of waiting in line outside Atlantic News or watching for a delivery bike, we would have felt even more adrift from normalcy, from our city and our lives, than ever.

Thank goodness for these small mercies. As Hamm puts it: "When you're troubled or anxious or all of the news that you hear is negative, what solace you can find in just sitting in your favourite chair with a cup of tea or coffee and having a book in your lap." 

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