Adaptability, Support Help Denman Island’s Abraxas Books, Gifts, and Coffee survive the pandemic
When the pandemic hit in March, Abraxas Books & Gifts owner Tachi Barker wondered whether the business would get through the financial strain. Now, with solid community support and a new coffee bar, she’s feeling more confident that Denman’s landmark bookstore of 26 years will remain in business.
“The pandemic affected sales dramatically, but I’m grateful that the Denman Community has supported us as much as they have. More people have been buying local.”
Spike in Art Supply & Dystopic Novel Sales
Some items actually increased in sales in March and April.
“People being at home spiked the sales of art supplies. Yay to creativity!” Tachi is an accomplished painter herself.
There was also a spike in dystopic novel sales. “It’s ironic that Emily St. John Mandel’s new book ‘The Glass Hotel’ came out during this period.” [Emily Mandel’s 2014 novel “Station Eleven”, featured a world devastated by a global pandemic; “The Glass Hotel,” hinges on a massive global financial crisis.]
Tachi has adapted to the new way of doing business by offering phone and email orders and curbside delivery on Denman, as well as limiting customers to one at a time in the store, providing hand sanitizer, social distancing and installing plastic shields at the counters.
Reduced store hours during months of ‘lockdown’ had some benefits. It gave Tachi the opportunity for some much-needed downtime, to complete upgrades to the Abraxasbooks.ca website, and preparations for the new coffee bar at the back of the shop.
A lifelong resident, Tachi has raised her son here, too. Three generations of her family have worked to keep Abraxas going. She is the eighth owner of the business, her predecessor was her father Juan Barker, who helps out a few days a week in his semi-retirement; son Theo and one other employee also work in the shop part-time.
Re-inventing Abraxas With a Coffee & Snack Bar
Drawing on her 17 years of experience running The Curve food cart at the Denman West ferry terminal, she says, “I have been planning the coffee bar for a long time. In winter, Abraxas needs more income to keep people employed, and with the trend in businesses combining books and coffee – it seemed like a natural fit.”
She ordered a Class 5 Rancilio espresso machine from Italy (the ‘big sister’ of the machine used at The Curve), but its arrival was dubious. “I call it ‘June’, because I ordered it in early March and it didn’t arrive until mid-June because of the virus!”
The coffee bar is complete with snack bar and seating area for up to 12 people, due to limited water and current pandemic social distancing restrictions. However, patrons can also use the common ground courtyard space out the back door. Besides specialty coffee, regular drip and tea (including some from Denman Island Tea Company!), are hot and cold sandwiches, and snack foods – all sourced as locally as possible.
And, though she will miss the canine visitors, health and safety laws also mean that pets are no longer able to come into Abraxas.
The pandemic also affected scheduled events that contribute to Abraxas’ bottom line, like the book launch for “Voices from Hornby & Denman Island Home Support 1979-2019” and the Reader’s & Writer’s festival.
“The new café space will be ideal for book readings and art events in the future – things that really facilitate the culture of the bookstore.”
Browse & Order millions of titles on Abraxasbooks.ca
And getting back to books…the website upgrades make it easy to search by title, author, ISBN, or publisher, see what’s in the store, or see the in-store best seller list, with precise instructions right on the home page, which states:
“At your fingertips are millions of titles to browse at your convenience! With the click of a button, you can also instantly tell what’s on our shelves and what’s on order, as well as browse for titles that we would be more than happy to special order in for you! Anything that you purchase at our online store may be picked up at our “downtown” location. You don’t have to pay until you pick up your books.” Check out all that Abraxasbooks.ca has to offer.
The past few months, the shop has had very limited hours, but Tachi plans to be back to fulltime hours in the coming weeks.
As of July 9, Abraxas is open from 9 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday-Friday, Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Local support means a lot
“At this point, I’m not able to staff and operate both sections, due to cost and health regulations,” she said. “Phase three is here and people are on the move again. I’m looking forward to the coming months with looser restrictions and added income! The financial strain of this virus, and the global economic situation isn’t over yet, so please support your local businesses.”
She’s excited to have new neighbours, as the Denman Craft Shop relocated next door to Abraxas in November 2019. “The Craft Shop gives people more reason to come to, or stay in, downtown Denman.”
Tachi also helps support local micro-economies – many of the store’s gift items are made by local artisans and there is a whole section of local authors including JP McLean, Des Kennedy, and Bill Engleson. She is looking for more local distributors of gift items, so stop in to see her if you have something to offer.
Tachi again reminds everyone that Abraxas has much more than just books. “We also carry art supplies and a full line of gifts, games, cards, toys, incense, candles, mugs, socks, puzzles and much more, plus a copier and stationery supplies.”
You can follow Book Gifts (Abraxas Books and Gifts) on Facebook for updates to hours, news and menus!
Words & Photos by Trish Weatherall
Published in The Islands Grapevine, July 3, 2020
For more about Denman Island, BC, go to VisitDenmanIsland.ca