The sign above the door may call it Black Bear Books and Coffee House, but that only begins to describe the business that moved a couple of blocks to 1229 Canyon Street in the spring.
With soup, baking, music supplies and even clothing, owner Paula Carpenter has expanded — both in size, staff and inventory — the business she bought from Alison Bjorkman in November 2011.
“I told her if she decided to sell it to come to me first,” said Carpenter. “And I did say that only half-seriously.”
Carpenter — a former child/youth counsellor who ran a café in a museum and a formal dining room and mess hall at Goldeye Centre in Nordegg, Alta., before coming to Creston six years ago — was pleased to discover that Black Bear Books was well loved and supported by the community, despite its proximity to the U.S. border and the supposed popularity of electronic books.
“I was surprised, for all of the hype about being in the electronic age, how small sales of ebooks are,” she said.
Owning the bookstore was a logical step for Carpenter. Her mom read to her before she learned to talk, and her farmer grandparents were avid readers, creating a lifelong passion.
“I don’t ever remember a time not reading,” said Carpenter. “I was the young girl getting caught under the covers at 5 a.m. with a flashlight having pulled an all-nighter. Then I found out from my grandma that my mom was the girl getting caught under the covers at 5 a.m. with a flashlight having pulled an all-nighter.”
She’s passed that love on to her own daughter — on occasions when money was tight, they would visit bookstores to take in the atmosphere. That led to creating a children’s play yard, complete with a mural by Skylar Eyre, and comfortable seating so parents can show books to their kids.
One exciting thing that has happened since Carpenter expanded the store is that it has become easier to have local authors launch books with readings and signings — at one launch, 55 people and a live band packed the store.
“It’s allowed us to have a totally different relationship with local authors,” said Carpenter.
The expansion has also allowed for new categories of books, with an award-winners shelf becoming one of the store’s top-selling sections, and a classics section proving popular. Bargain books, too, are now available, straight from a supplier that buys stock from other bookstores.
A book club, too, is in the works and will start in January, with a list of possible titles being created on the store’s Facebook page.
The food, though, is probably the biggest difference between the old and new locations.
Both Carpenter and her daughter have food allergies and sensitivities that make dining out difficult — “If you don’t live it, you don’t understand it” — and expanding the store from 800 to 1,200 square feet made it possible to combine a need and her personal philosophy: “Food should be excellent all the time, regardless of what your dietary restrictions are.”
She started out with one daily soup and muffins, soon expanding to two daily soups and a full line of baking, including biscuits, cookies and energy bars, all of it organic, and, depending on the product, vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free and dairy-free. As much as possible, she chooses local ingredients, such as Kootenay Natural Meats, Famous Fritz meats and Swan Valley Honey.
“I have been very blessed to have the resources available in the valley to do what I want to do. … I think people are surprised when they find it tastes good.”
Other new items in the expanded store range from fun pajamas and slippers — “It’s nothing too serious” — to music supplies, such as straps, strings and drumsticks.
“People say, ‘This is the first time I’ve been able to get a string in town,’ ” said Carpenter.
And with that variety of items in the store, Carpenter is sure to continue enjoying the folks who come in for them.
“We have such a diverse community,” she said. “We really have all types. We’re always having new customers come in and surprise us.”