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Last Modified: March 18, 2024
Feature image: a photograph of the interior of Baileys Books. The text reads, "Baileys & Book Clubs, A winning combination"
Baileys & Book Clubs— A winning combination

He’s a Conan Doyle fan: a whole bookcase houses his Sherlock Holmes collection, including a small piece of lined paper inked with the author’s signature. She’d rather read Stephen King or novels in the science fiction and fantasy genres. He’s a hobbyist bookbinder, admiring the tactility of reading. She’s fine to read digitally or listen to an audiobook, so long as it’s a good story. He’s her father; she’s his daughter.

Meet Lisa and Barry Bailey. As of October 2023, they’re co-owners of Bailey Books in St. Albert. In a stroke of fortune, Barry purchased the unit he’s rented for more than two decades, and Lisa’s moved back from Vancouver to join him in the business. Over the years, Barry held a full-time job, and therefore couldn’t keep regular retail hours. Bookselling was his hobby—he developed a niche on AbeBooks with signed books and Western Canadian history. With Lisa in the picture, the shop will be open regularly Tuesdays to Saturdays.

“We distract each other too much. We don’t get any work done,” says Lisa, who comes in two hours after her father and leaves two hours later to ensure at least some work gets done. During our conversation, laughs resound every other sentence. They whip witticisms back and forth, and their energy is contagious.

If they don’t charm you, the shop itself charms you on entrance with its quirky collection of bookends and walls that feature symbols of our region’s history: a bison skull on one wall, an old timber logging saw on the other. The space boasts high ceilings, with stairs leading to a loft where Lisa plans to host monthly book clubs. A portrait of French-Métis historian Victoria Belcourt Calihoo greets you from the loft’s half-wall. Once you’ve retrieved something of interest from the shelves, a recliner welcomes you to relax and read a while.

Photograph of the interior of Bailey Books, facing North.

Programming book clubs—one for Stephen King, one for Romantasy, and a low-pressure meet where folks chat about what they’ve been reading—is only one of the initiatives Lisa’s introduced to get new customers walking through the doors. Last October, she worked magic on social media to advertise a garage sale for the antique knick-knacks Barry had been collecting before the pandemic. When he showed up to the sale on a Saturday, he arrived to a lineup of customers waiting for the shop to open. Many of them were young women, a demographic he hadn’t necessarily been cultivating by listing and selling on AbeBooks.

Lisa’s impact has been sudden. After nearly four years of inactivity on social media, she dove headfirst into the deep end and started posting on TikTok. Her first post garnered 50,000 views. A post about taking stickers off of a library book has 760,000. The TikTok activity caught the attention of Jack Farrell from the St. Albert Gazette, who was quick to profile the duo for the paper. That’s a lot of free advertising! The traffic in the store has increased significantly. And they’ve received so much interest in their book clubs, Lisa’s worried there won’t be enough space. She’s even fielded requests to facilitate online book clubs so their followers can attend from across Canada and the US.

Photograph of Barry working on a book.

With his daughter taking good care of the daily operations, Barry’s excited to delve deeper into his growing passion for bookbinding and book restoration. “I’ve always been fascinated with everything about books, and over the years, people would ask me if I could fix a book and I’ve had to say no, not really.” Lisa jumps in, “Or a book is sellable, just with some TLC.” Barry, “Yeah, sometimes you just need to fix the gutter or reattach a board and now it’s worth something.” In 2011, curious about where one might learn the bookbinding craft, Barry attended the American Academy of Bookbinding in Telluride, CO to learn beginner’s and intermediate skills. Now, he takes on a few jobs here and there, mostly restoring heirlooms and binding favourites of his. In one instance, he salvaged the text block to a Canadian first edition of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World and rebound it in Moroccan goatskin. The result is impressive, with marbled endpapers, a satisfying curvature to the spine, and a deboss to place in the paper titling. “He’s good right?” Lisa beams.

With his decades-long wisdom in the book trade, his savvy on AbeBooks, her enthusiasm to bring in a new clientele and her sharp skills on social media, the Baileys are poised for success. For Edmontonians, a visit to Bailey Books is worth the drive—and St. Albertans can expect to find me at their low-pressure book club!


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.