by Lucas K. Law
Backbeat Books and Music is a store in the town of Perth in Eastern Ontario, about 80 km from Ottawa and with a population of about 6,000 people. Backbeat Books and Music has been in existence since 2011. Dan and Christine Chu bought the store two years ago.
This is a recent conversation with Christine Chu.
Why did you, Dan and Tenzin get involved with the store in the first place?
Dan’s passion is music and mine is reading, so when the opportunity presented itself to buy a book and record store, it practically felt serendipitous.
Tenzin is our six-year-old son who we’ve jokingly nicknamed The Boss. He’s great at doing kids’ book reviews (and sometimes confusing people who contact our shop asking to speak with the boss).
What is your typical day for you at Backbeat Books and Music? How about Dan?
We don’t have a set work schedule (one of the perks of business ownership!)…sometimes we’re here together and other days we alternate. A typical day for me involves selecting new and used books for the shop and helping customers with recommendations or special orders. I also host two book clubs at the shop, which I absolutely love.
Dan’s typical day involves ordering and/or unpacking new release vinyl, or cataloguing and cleaning vintage vinyl and helping customers find their ultimate record to start or expand their collections. He’s also our turntable/gear expert.
We’re lucky that we can consider opening boxes full of goodies, reading books and listening to music on a regular basis the essential parts of our job!
Your plans for ‘Authors for Indies Day’ on May 2, 2015 can be found on here. Did the authors contact you? If not, then how did you get the authors to celebrate the day with you and your customers?
Julie Paul was the first author to come on board with us for this event. We’d already planned for her to come and do a reading of her latest book, The Pull of the Moon, when we found out about Authors for Indies. I asked if she was interested in rearranging her schedule to participate and she immediately wrote back saying she was in!
Within a few days, Liane Shaw called to see if I was interested in having her volunteer, which I was definitely open to, as I knew lots of other stores had multiple authors volunteering.
Very shortly thereafter, I received a call from Charles de Lint. Although he’s from Ottawa, he felt that he wanted to support a smaller shop that may not have the same opportunities as those in bigger cities, so we are grateful and excited to have him coming as well.
What did you learn from your interviews with the authors? Were there any surprises? What were they and why?
I’m always particularly interested in the authors’ writing processes.
I was surprised to hear that Charles de Lint – who has written over 70 books – has experienced writer’s block.
I was surprised to learn that it’s not Julie Paul’s writing equipment and set-up that contribute to her best writing – it’s eating crunchy foods.
I was interested to find out that Liane Shaw writes the endings of her books early on, as she says she can’t really get moving on a novel until she’s figured out how to end it, literally down to the last word.
Our main goal is to hopefully keep expanding, to continue to serve our very loyal customers and to gain some new ones along the way.
We rely a lot on social media and word-of-mouth when it comes to what we do and we’ve always focused on providing a great in-shop experience for our customers. While internet shopping and e-books exist, we just don’t feel they can beat the very tactile and sensory experience of shopping for real-live books or flipping through vinyl browsers and crates to perhaps find that one elusive book or record to add to the collection.
Name some of your memorable moments from running Backbeat Books and Music.
Our anniversary coincides with Record Store Day, so it’s always a fun day and one of our busiest of the year. Last year, we celebrated with an outdoor concert right beside our shop.
Last year, we were featured in Ottawa Magazine and we were just recently contacted by re:Porter (Porter Airlines’ in-flight magazine), so we’re going to be featured in that as well in the next month or two. When our little business in a town of just 6,000 people gets this kind of attention, it really makes us feel proud of what we’re doing every day. You never know who’s going to find you!
What the books are on your personal bookshelf to read? What do you enjoy reading? Name your recent favourite reads. Why?
I have pretty eclectic taste in books and tend to alternate between modern fiction and non-fiction titles. Fiction is great because I loved being sucked into imaginary worlds for hours at a time, but I love non-fiction (particularly autobiographies of people whose lives are the polar opposite of my own) because truth really often is stranger than fiction and it’s often unbelievable to learn what some people have actually lived through.
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews and The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill are definitely recent favourites. I love to champion and promote Canadian authors because I strongly believe there is a wealth of talented writers in this country. Miriam and Heather both have quirky-yet-believable tones to all of their books that I really relate to. I fall in love with the characters they create and once I start reading, I don’t ever want their books to end.
The funniest non-fiction book I’ve read to-date has to be Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. I literally laughed until it hurt. Her real-life experiences and how she relays them are absolutely hilarious and sometimes I’m just in the mood for a really funny book. This one knocked it out of the park.
I also recently really enjoyed Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? a graphic novel memoir by Roz Chast about dealing with her aging parents. It was the first graphic novel I’ve ever read and, while I was hesitant to read a book in this format, it was highly recommended, so I decided to give it a try. About five pages in, I was so absorbed in the story, the format was no longer an issue and I actually felt the pictures added so much to the book.
I don’t think the reading patterns of our own customers have changed much in the past few years. While it’s no secret that bookstores are struggling nowadays, there is still an abundance of people that still prefer to read physical books, who prefer to buy their books in bricks and mortar stores and who really want a special bookstore experience.
That said, we definitely have certain times of the year (such as over the summer and Christmas) when we notice an increase in book sales and our vinyl sales keep us afloat the rest of the year.
We don’t really have a typical customer, so it’s hard to pinpoint popular genres and subjects. It’s such a personal thing for everyone. I have separate sections to promote Canadian fiction and non-fiction books, which customers seem to appreciate and while I carry some bestsellers, I do try to set our shop apart and not carry exactly the same titles as everyone else. It’s mainly those titles that have been our bestsellers (Bun B’s Rap Color and Activity Book, the Guide to Urban Moonshining and a rotating display of books with really strange and/or nonsensical titles are examples).
Is vinyl making a comeback? Who are the current favourites at your store?
It’s definitely making a comeback, but for so many people, it’s never gone away. For those who never left the format they are now again able to find new album releases on vinyl.
People who are just jumping in and starting collecting are finally experiencing the enjoyment of cracking open that new record, sitting down and spinning it for the first time.
If you have to choose a song to describe Backbeat Books and Music, what would it be?
“Wonderful, Glorious” by EELS
What advice do you have to offer to an author or artist who would like to conduct an event at Backbeat Books and Music?
Authors can get in touch with Christine and musicians can get in touch with Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please share a bit of your background and works with us and tell us why you think Backbeat would be a good fit for your event.
Visit Backbeat Books and Music (http://www.backbeatperth.com/) at
6 Wilson Street W
Canada K7H 2M5
Phone: (613) 466-0663
Monday – Saturday: 10am-5pm
Sunday: 12pm – 5pm