On the Arrival of Glass Bookshop


by Charlie Crittenden

“We need to open a bookshop,” Jason Purcell said to Matthew Stepanic over a glass of wine in the spring of 2018. “It needs to be an accessible space, and it needs to be a place where people can gather.” A year of plotting followed, accompanied by the operation of pop-up shops around town. The duo launched a crowdfunding campaign earlier this month and plan to open their permanent location in downtown Edmonton this fall under the name of Glass Bookshop.

Vikki Wiercinski of Mezzaluna Studios designed the store’s branding, and their conversations played a formative role in developing Glass Bookshop’s identity. “Jason and Matthew talked to me about the lifestyle aspects of reading and bookstores, and we researched other ‘third-wave’ bookshops for clues,” says Wiercinski, referencing independent bookstores with unique identities and curated title selections that act as a hub for community engagement. “We talked a lot about the airy, dreamy nature of the look,” she adds. Wavy shapes of soft pink, blue, and white form a common refrain in their branding, coalescing into abstract patterns like coral polyps or Matisse cut-outs.

Stepanic and Purcell have worked hard to build relationships with writers and publishers by selling books at venues such as the Royal Bison Art & Craft Fair and the 124 Grand Market Holiday Bazaar, finding strong interest among customers for local and diverse writers. “Maybe you’ve read Vivek Shraya’s latest, and you want to read something else like it,” Purcell says. “We are stocking these marginalized writers that Canadian publishing has not focused on, and I believe that people are hungry for these books.” Queer literature will feature prominently on the store’s shelves. Stepanic imagines someone asking him, “Why you gotta make everything gay?” As he puts it, “Everything I have experienced in my life — until I was finally like, ‘I’m queer’— has been a heteronormative narrative. We want to find queer content. When we invite people into our shop, we want them to find narratives that they can connect with.”

Literary Postcards (featuring L-R: Vivek Shraya, NASRA, Mel Hurtig) by Michelle Campos Castillo

Glass Bookshop will also carry stock from local artists and designers, drawing on connections that Stepanic and Purcell have made at fairs like the Royal Bison. “Putting these cool objects next to the books has an element of surprise and unexpectedness,” Stepanic says. “If you like a certain book, what art will go with it?”

The two work as literary organizers and writers, and their plans for holding events at Glass Bookshop reflect their desire to create more room for performance and discussion in the city. Purcell hosts authors with the Canadian Literature Centre at the University of Alberta, and Stepanic runs Glass Buffalo, a poetry magazine and chapbook publisher. They found that authors would increasingly only appear in wheelchair-accessible venues, flagging the issue for the duo and sparking their plans to make Glass Bookshop an entirely accessible space. As Stepanic says, “Anytime that you’re in a literary organizer role, I think you should be looking at who’s not here and then finding the reasons why this person did not feel included.” Expanding on their drive for opening the store, Purcell says, “Matthew and I are both queer, but we’re also white cis men, and lots of privilege and power comes with that. We do have a lot of advantages, and if we can use that to build a place that will uplift and make space for other voices, that’s what I’m in it for.”

Literary Postcards (featuring L-R: Billy-Ray Belcourt, Larissa Lai, Marylin Dumont) by Lauren Crazybull

Glass Bookshop will hold events such as readings, author meet-and-greets, and quarterly book club discussions on selected titles, with further plans for hosting Fringe plays, lectures, and multimedia performances. The thirsty work of literary revelation will be aided by the inclusion of a wine bar, intended for events as well as for the solitary reader flipping through a recent purchase. They looked at independent bookstores such as Audreys Books in Edmonton and Massy Books in Vancouver to learn from their successes in creating a sense of community by welcoming people into the store for events. As Stepanic says, “We know that a bookshop is not just a place to sell books, it is a place to talk about books.”▪

Visit igg.me/at/glassbookshop to support the crowdfunding campaign — A notable perk is the postcard series created for the campaign (seen above) by Michelle Campos Castillo and Lauren Crazybull that pays tribute to Alberta’s literary past and present. One postcard depicts Mel Hurtig, local publishing impresario and the owner of Edmonton’s first independent bookstore, to which Audreys Books traces its roots. “He’s someone that was always about uplifting other voices,” Stepanic says, noting how Hurtig advocated for writers from Edmonton and Alberta. Purcell adds, “These literary postcards are emblematic of what we want to do, the folks that we want to highlight, like Billy-Ray or Vivek or Nasra.”