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Hamilton’s Pickwick Books creates surprises for lovers of literature

As any avid reader will likely tell you, one of the best parts about picking up a new book is the sense of the unknown: the excitement of each turn of the page presenting the opportunity for a revelatory turn of the plot.

Pickwick Books, a Hamilton-area independent bookshop nestled in the heart of Waterdown, has started taking this idea to an even more enticing level.

But before we dive into that, let’s go back in time and trace this little shop’s journey from the very first time it opened its doors to the public.

The adorable corner shop at 325 Dundas Street East originally opened over a quarter-century ago in 1995, where it was previously owned by founder Des Brady – known fondly to locals as ‘Mr. Pickwick’ – who tended to the beloved shop for 15 whole years while amassing a varied collection of gently used and previously loved books of all sorts.

Pickwick Books came to mean so much to the local community, in fact, that some of Brady’s loyal customers, Chris and Lori Dupee, jumped at the chance to take over the shop and preserve its local legacy back in 2010 when Brady made the decision to retire.

The Dupees kept operations running and pages turning for six years to follow, at which point they decided to pass Pickwick Books on to focus more on their family and careers.

Since then, the shop has been under the care of Cheryl Kaufman, who discovered Pickwick Books totally by chance.

“Five years ago, I spotted Pickwick’s while taking a detour and discovered that the owners were selling it,” says Kaufman. “I saw so much potential; it was a perfect opportunity for me to leave a high stress job and be my own boss, so I took the leap.”

Kaufman has carrying on with this well-loved local staple ever since, through good times and bad; and it’s no secret that 2020 brought on a whole bunch of bad times for just about everyone, including small businesses like Pickwick Books.

But rather than fold under the pressure, Kaufman got to work developing a unique way of continuing to provide the magic of a great book to locals during a time where that sort of escapism was more needed than ever.

Though online shopping saw record levels of demand amid the pandemic, transitioning to a focus on e-commerce presented some considerable barriers for Pickwick’s as a book store dealing in such varied assortments of previously-loved literature with no established tracking system for their inventory.

This forced Kaufman to get creative with how Pickwick’s could join in on the online shopping boom. Eventually, she landed on an approach that allows the shop to reach customers remotely while also honouring what makes picking up a new book so special: the sense of discovery and surprise.

“As COVID restrictions took hold, I really appreciated being able to order so many items for home delivery,” says Kaufman. “I just knew I had to work out a plan for Pickwick’s.”

From there, Pickwick’s Book Boxes were officially born.

The concept is simple: the Book Boxes function like a mystery box, with customers able to choose between a package of 2, 4, or 6 books that will remain a total surprise until the package arrives. For more voracious readers, there’s even the option to set up the book boxes as an ongoing monthly subscription.

Customers can guide the selection of books to a degree by choosing one or more preferred genres of literature; but from there, it’s Pickwick’s choice for what will ultimately end up on your doorstep.

The whole thing is also very low-risk; since Pickwick’s is a shop for used books, the price of the mystery boxes is extremely reasonable, with the lowest priced option set at just $10 for two hand-selected books and the highest set at $25 for six books. Who knows? You just might find a new favourite.

“Our book box customers have loved having us choose their specially curated selections,” adds Kaufman. “It expands their reading experience by trying out different authors they may not have chosen or even heard of.”

Luckily, Kaufman’s creative pivot really took off for Pickwick’s, with the shop seeing some solid demand for the intriguing book boxes and a newly expanded customer base that branches across Ontario and even into other provinces like British Columbia, Quebec, and Nova Scotia; a reach that may not have happened the same way without the necessary innovations prompted by the pandemic.

Not too shabby for a small, locally-beloved book shop on a street corner in Waterdown.

Learn more about the book boxes at Pickwick Books by visiting their website.

Images courtesy of Pickwick Books

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