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Last Modified: April 10, 2024
Graphic with the messaging, An Enchanting Afternoon at Cafe Books
An Enchanting Afternoon at Café Books

February 29 occurs but once every four years, so best not to waste a gift day. I spent my extra day this leap year paying a visit to Café Books on Canmore’s 8th Street. To my east as I approach the strip mall lies Grotto Mountain. To the west, Mount Rundle. Both mountains are held neatly atop the roofs of businesses down the strip.

But the only mountain I’m here to see is one made of books! Café Books is deceptively large; don’t be fooled by its modest exterior. Upon entering, I was immediately enchanted, as if I had stepped inside a magical forest, one with winding paths and cozy groves. And, indeed, there is a tree affixed to the centre of the store, its leaves replaced with lights, cards, and Out of Print socks that hang above a plentiful supply of literary-themed tees.

An interior shot of Cafe Books. Bookcase are lining the walls and tree branches hang from the ceiling.

Lending to this sense of arboreal bliss, every piece of furniture on which a book rests is uniquely crafted from wood varied in colour and finish. The whole store is warm and woodsy. Foliage—pine cones, needles, branches—outline several bookcases.

Books are not only housed on neat shelves, but rest upon work benches, or are tucked away inside old school desks, or stacked in rows on an ornate staircase with its railing intact. A handful of bronze statues, like the one of a faerie lying on her stomach with her nose in a book, also bring the natural world inside the shop. Fittingly, towards the back of the store you reach the kids’ section and feel as if you’ve climbed into the enchanted forest’s treehouse.

A photograph of the kids' section. Bookcases line the walls and in the forefront of the photograph is a display of books on a table. Triangle streams dangle from the ceiling.

So who’s behind this “world of wonder and adventure” (to quote their homepage)? Since 2006, owners Joy and Charlie McLean and their team of excellent booksellers have poured their heart and soul into Café Books. And it shows!

The evidence is in their curation of titles, categorization (like ‘Witchy Gardening’), the furniture, and the delightful embellishments. They also strive to promote local authors from Canmore and the surrounding area, ensuring readers are aware how plentiful the talent is in their region. While the store stocks a healthy selection of travel guides, travel literature, and adventure writing, the demographic they need to reflect in their stock is much broader than that, with the area seeing national and international tourism in addition to Calgary weekenders. They need good representation in all genres to serve such a variety of visitors.

If you manage to navigate through the enchanted forest, its alluring books drawing your eyes this way and that, you’ll reach a door that exits out into a hallway of the building. Cross that hallway and, just when you think your wallet is safe from the bookish grip, you’ll stumble into Chapter 2, Café Books’ charming used books room.

In 2013, Calgary and the Bow Valley were hit with massive floods. Canmore lost its only used bookstore at the time, Second Story, to the deluge. Members of the community suggested that Café Books begin selling used books, and thus Chapter 2 was born.

When Joy and Charlie decided to deal in vintage books, they committed to an aesthetic that would ultimately spill out from Chapter 2 into the main area of the store. They sourced antique furniture from Calgary architectural salvage company Uniquities, including arched windows made of stone from an eighteenth-century Welsh chapel that had to be transported block by block and reassembled inside. My favourite piece is that same chapel’s giant wooden door, its largeness commanding a peaceful silence through the room. These unique pieces of architecture and furniture have filled all of Café Books with such history and wonder.

Photograph of the welsh chapel door in Chapter 2. A bookcase is positioned in front of the door. Joy has managed only to grow her passion for bookselling over the years, taking care of inventory management and ordering while balancing a career in medicine as a family physician. Her capacity to be interested by a book’s premise (and promise!) seems limitless. On bookselling, Joy states, “You have to be brave with your ordering choices. You have to order enough quantity and order the books. You have to have the books there to sell.” After nearly two decades of bookstore ownership, Joy has developed an intuition for her customer base, and takes risks when she believes readers will respond.

“From the bottom of my heart, that store is for somebody to go in and enjoy. That’s what I want,” Joy says. “It’s not the profit-making. It’s what I want people to feel about it. It has my whole heart, really.”

After forty years as a family physician, Joy retired in 2019; Charlie slowed down his career as a tennis pro that same year. It seems they both had no great difficulty at all leaving arduous careers to spend more time in the enchanted surroundings of Café Books. And neither will any book lover — it was the perfect way to spend two hours on the extra day of the year.


About the Author

Colby Clair Stolson lies on a rug with a stunned expression on his face. A typewriter rests on his stomach, and books are on the ground beside him.Colby Clair Stolson grew up somewhere in the in-between, in a town called Ponoka. Every day he asks himself, “Who knows if the moon’s/a balloon”? And some of those balloons have been published: in Edmonton’s Glass Buffalo and Funicular Magazine, and in Canada’s (via Ottawa) Touch the Donkey and periodicities.