Julie Wilkins didn’t plan to go into the independent bookstore business. She especially didn’t plan to write the picture book We’re Happy You’re Here, to be published in 2024 by Orca Book Publishers. Inspired by her best friend’s surrogacy, We’re Happy You’re Here is a love letter to small humans, encouraging families to talk about their unique journeys and the many special people who helped along the way.
Like many workers, she made a major career switch during the pandemic that paid off.
“It’s a dream for many people to retire and open up a bookstore,” she said. “I hear that daily, so I feel like I should pretend that I worked towards opening Little Bookshop my whole life, but that wasn’t the case. I wanted to do something positive for the world during a really hard time. My family and I dove into our value systems and realized there was a huge gap in our community when it came to resources about all of the big things happening in our world. We have an amazing library and amazing used bookstores, but there are long waitlists often for the same book. Making diverse perspectives available in our small town was something I thought I could do, and then it snowballed from there.”
Julie worked as a brand strategist for twenty years, starting with the Olympics, followed by Tourism BC, before freelancing in the tourism industry. She makes a point to remind her employees that just because they’re the best or most experienced at a task, that does not mean they automatically are expected to take on that role.
“In past careers I felt pulled along a trajectory that wasn’t always my choosing,” she said. “For this reason, I grew increasingly uncomfortable as I climbed the corporate ladder. I want to build a workplace that celebrates unique passions and fosters personal development. I know many people feel like starting a business is terrifying, but for me, it’s much less pressure. If it fails tomorrow, I’ll be satisfied knowing I had a positive impact on my community.”
Little Bookshop started as a mobile bookstore servicing the Lower Mainland during the pandemic. The mobile shop continues to tour the Lower Mainland and in March 2022, a permanent storefront opened at 38041 2nd Avenue in Squamish. Since then, there have been forty events, sixteen free Storytime’s, and fifteen workshops held in the bookstore.
When events aren’t happening, mothers connect over shared experiences while browsing for books on grieving loved ones lost too soon, teens work on homework and provide feedback on what books are missing in the YA section, and elderly folks stop to chat without being rushed out the door to serve the next customer.
The indoor and outdoor spaces have become a community hub for book lovers of all ages to meet, functioning as a third place. Third places are spaces outside of home—the first place—or work—the second place—where people deliberately spend time on a reoccurring basis. Coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in the 1980s, these spaces allow people to congregate and often involve a form of recreation. With remote working conditions combining first and second places, a third place is all the more important for fostering relationships and feeling connected to the physical world.
Little Bookshop also took home “Best New Business” at the Chambers Excellence Awards in Squamish, proving that the BC book business is in full swing.
“There’s this misconception that bookstores are dying or dead,” she said. “Winning the award reiterated that we’re on the right track. Our values are so obvious in all our books, and we curate down to diversity, inclusion, self, love, and acceptance. It shows that there’s enough people in our community that think those values are important to grow and to foster. There are awesome people in Squamish and we really lucky to be a part of a community that values those things enough to give us an award.”
Wilkins reiterated that her team is what makes visiting Little Bookshop so special.
“We have the coolest group of humans working here,” she said. “In a world where people are having trouble hiring, we have not had that experience so far. It’s an awesome place to be in and and awesome team to work with. I feel so lucky for that.”