It was the year that man first set foot on the moon, Led Zeppelin released their first album and Richard Nixon became President. 1969 was also the year that Clive and Christine Tanner opened their first bookstore.
“I’d gone up to the Yukon on a sales trip and my wife, Christine, who has always been an avid reader, told me we should become booksellers. We bought a bookstore and stayed there for about 12 years before coming to Sidney. We’d come here on a visit and thought it was quite nice, you see,” explained Tanner.
After coming to Sidney the Tanners proceeded to open a bookstore on Beacon Avenue that still bears their name. They sold that shop but, over the years they have opened and operated a series of other bookshops. Sidney eventually became known as Booktown.
Perhaps the most fascinating of those bookstores, and one Clive took particular pride in operating, was the Military and History Bookshop on Fourth Street.
Now that shop has been forced to close as development along Fourth (Street) resulted in the loss of the lease for the property.
“History is important. If more people read and understood history we might not have some of the political thrashing about that we see today,” observed Tanner.
He said that the focus of his bookstore was particularly relevant to Sidney given the large number of military veterans living in the community. It made closing the shop even more disheartening, but Tanner stresses the material in that shop will continue to be available.
“I was sad to have to close the doors, but we’ve moved the entire inventory and will be operating out of this shop instead,” explained Tanner, gesturing at the multitude of shelves in the back of Beacon Books on Beacon Avenue, one of the other Sidney bookstores owed by the couple.
“We only had about 900 square feet in the old shop (Military and History Bookshop) so I didn’t think it would be too hard to move it here, but I keep forgetting that books are heavy,” laughed Tanner, who at 84 years of age still carries himself with an air that leads one to believe he is more than capable of carrying his share of books.
“It turns out we had to move about 40 to 50 thousand books. That’s a lot of work,” said Tanner, adding that they first moved the inventory to a garage where they are sorting the books before bringing them to Beacon Books.
Christine Tanner smiled as she surveyed the new additions to the shop she manages.
“We love books, obviously, but as a bookseller you don’t often have enough time to read. Used and antique books are a difficult business. You have to have a good foundation in books and be able to recognize their value as first editions, signed volumes … it’s almost like being an art dealer,” said Christine.
She added that another challenge facing booksellers is rooted in technology.
“A lot of the sales of books, particularly used books, occurs online. We list all of our best volumes and do a lot of business there.”
Clive pointed out that the couple has been involved with online sales since the beginning and used the Vancouver Island tech firm of ABEBooks long before that firm was purchased by the giant, Amazon.
“It doesn’t matter to me how we sell our books, only that people read, and learn and have their lives enriched. It’s why we’re in this business,” he said.