Thirty-five years ago, the Mad Hatter Bookstore’s novels were stacked to the ceiling.
Then-owner Doug Campbell had a photographic memory, allowing him to recall a book’s location in the disarray.
Aptly named after the Mad Hatter, nowadays the West Kelowna store is a little more organized.
Owners Paulette and Maurice Breault offer a tour of the shop for each new customer.
“Books are a way of life for people, books take you to another venue when you need to and it’s also very relaxing. We have many people who come in and say ‘thank you so much for saving the bookstore,’” Paulette said.
The books are neatly stacked, with brightly coloured labels for fiction, horror, self-help, true adventures, business, Canadian history and more making the books easier to find.
For the Breaults, it’s not just a bookstore, it’s a place to connect with the community. Residents and visitors navigate the tightly-packed shelves as if it were a dance, Paulette said.
“That’s why I say ‘shall we waltz?’ because look at this way, this is where people start talking to each other because someone will ask me ‘have you read this?’ Then someone will pipe up, ‘you have to read this book, it’s fantastic.’ Then they find each other and start talking about the author.”
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The retired school teachers took over the shop five years ago after Campbell sold his store.
“It was failing because people weren’t reading the books, or so he thought because that’s when the Kindles came in and we thought as teachers we couldn’t let this go,” Paulette said. “Doug was very knowledgeable on his books… he was selling out, we came in and said where are we going to find books because you have to go across the bridge?”
Paulette added, “there’s nothing like holding a real book in your hand.”
She tried a Kindle but reading electronically before bed gave her unwanted energy.
Maurice hopes the book industry will last and doesn’t see Mad Hatter closing its doors anytime soon.
“Books are patient, they’re there for when you want them.”
He listed the Game of Thrones series as an example of what people request in the paper format.
“People want those in the hardcover and some people only want the signed ones and others want newer ones like the Harry Potters. The love of books is being transferred to the next generation. I see it here every day. People bring in their family and you see life in their eyes, they’ve picked up the excitement.
“Can this be transmitted through watching a movie on television? Or reading on a computer? I don’t know. The families that read to their children, it’s a family event. I see the difference in the children, being retired teachers, we know the value and books are previous to the young people.
He expects more readers will turn to the online format but believes books will become collectibles.
“The internet can be changed, it can be manipulated. Hitler tried to burn all the books. The Spaniards tried to burn Mayan books. The ones that survived are so precious,” he said.
The couple brought the dusty shelves back to life with a fresh coat of paint, added new shelves and a community-focused mindset.
Some books won’t stay on the shelves. They carry multiple copies of certain novels, like The Secret, and focus on helping people find their book treasures.
The bookstore allows the couple to socialize with the community, and they’ve put efforts into marketing and branding the store.
“We get people from the states, they always come up in the summer and know exactly where we are. We get people from Vancouver and now we’re getting people from Lake Country, Rutland in Kelowna and they’re crossing the bridge,” Paulette said.
The bookstore has also expanded into the digital world, as Mad Hatter ships books worldwide.
About 10,000 books are sold online through abebooks.com.
Check out the cozy atmosphere of the bookstore yourself, located at 2483 Main Street in Westbank. The store is open Monday to Saturday.