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Last Modified: January 10, 2024
Feature image: In pink text on a grey background is the title, You look cuter with a book. Beside the text is an exterior photograph of Glass Book.
You look cuter with a book…

Four months after their fourth move in November 2022, I stepped into Glass Bookshop’s bright and spacious new location in Ritchie, a neighbourhood in Edmonton complete with life’s necessities: coffee, ice cream, donuts, sandwiches, and books. The bookshop’s layout is so simple it’s refreshing. Shelves of five rows line two opposing walls. In the corner, books for children and teens meet. A white table stretches down the centre of the space, featuring staff favourites and other new releases. Against white walls, the subtle, satisfying pops of colour become exaggerated: a red sale cart, a row of three lavender dome pendants that light up the centre table, a wall fixture to match behind their slab counter with tidy tilework. On the east wall, a mirror begging for a selfie beside Glass Bookshop’s charming slogan, “You look cuter with a book.”

Photograph of a table displaying books with a mirror above it. Written on the wall beside the mirror is "You Look Cuter with a Book.".

I was participating in Glass Bookshop’s book club discussion for the month of March: Hiromi Goto’s Chorus of Mushrooms (20th Anniversary Edition, NeWest Press, 2014). The conversation was guided by bookseller and journalist Makda Mulatu, who’s also produced an impressive list of podcast episodes for Glass Bookshop Radio. The discussion was lively and I was glad to exchange enthusiasm for such an astounding work of literature with people who saw the novel from different angles than my own. I left that evening with an even deeper appreciation for the book than when I had read its final pages, as well as for the ways literature connects and inspires us.

Five years ago, Matthew Stepanic and Jason Purcell had a vision to open up a bookstore that explicitly foregrounded queer, racialized, and other marginalized writers. The partnership made a dream team. Matthew had co-founded and edited the student journal, Glass Buffalo; Jason had a decade of experience as a bookseller in shops large and small. Matthew had connections with local markets like the Royal Bison and the 124 Grand Market as well as the Writers’ Guild of Alberta; Jason was a Programs Officer at the Centre for Literatures in Canada and responsible for organizing their popular Brown Bag Lunch series. The strength of the partnership between Matthew and Jason was that they were both actively engaged in the spaces that they wanted to serve as a community bookstore. Investing money from their own pockets, they placed a small order of diverse titles and their journey began.

A lot has happened for Glass Bookshop in the last five years, much of which can be found elsewhere online (see their exceedingly successful crowdfunding campaign; their Storyhive documentary detailing their intentions to move into Stovel Block; their interview with BookNet Canada). In the last five years, they have moved their shelves four times, and not always on solid ground. Still, more importantly, during that time they have hosted brilliant authors like Jessica Johns, Vivek Shraya, Billy-Ray Belcourt, T. Liem, Brandi Bird, and John Elizabeth Stintzi and have offered accessible, inclusive space to their patrons and audiences. They have stocked books you’d certainly have to special order elsewhere. They have amassed 13,000 followers on Instagram, welcomed Julie King-Yerex as co-owner, sustained living wages for their employees, bid adieu to Matthew, and continued to curate a diverse and stimulating collection. They have excelled in local business collaborations, teaming up with Kind Ice Cream to print poetry on pints and with Garneau Block to pair wine and literature. And they have stayed their course: to amplify the voices of queer, racialized, and otherwise marginalized folks and to serve as a community hub.

Photograph of the interior of Glass Bookshop. A white table stretches down the centre of the room displaying books, and bookshelves line the walls.

Jason describes the history of Glass Bookshop as one near-cataclysmic event after another, with members of the community coming to their aid each time. Purcell says, “This feels consistent with our story. This always happens—I feel like, ‘Okay, this is the end,’ and then we get another breath of life. It almost does feel divine.” When asked if they’ve fended off cataclysm for now, they say, “Y’know, I can never say for sure.” We laugh. “What I will say is it remains precarious. And I think that’s probably an experience many bookstores have. We’ve never really had an opportunity to set down roots and lay a foundation. We’ve always just been trying to keep going, to hope that the next thing will be enough to lay a foundation.” Five years. Several moves. Rental agreements falling through or running their course. Changes in ownership. Glass Bookshop has proven resilient and the team continues to fill in gaps in representation and service.

Photograph of the east interior wall of Glass Bookshop. Bookshelves line the wall. Working tirelessly to true the wheel is Julie, who became co-owner in 2022. She is invigorating the shop’s sense of community service, co-ordinating with a neighbourhood health practitioner to offer Naloxone training. Her vision for the store is clear: “Bookstores are community spaces and if we’re not offering that space to the community, then what are we doing?” Later, she says, “It’s so important for me to not just be here as a commercial entity or a product of capitalism. Of course, we need people to buy books in order to exist. We can’t get by on nothing. But if we’re going to be selling books to people, especially the books we carry, it’s so important we reflect our values in what we stock and how we show up for our community. That community includes everyone.” The thoughts, ideas, feelings, and ethics expressed in the titles Glass Bookshop stocks are reflected through their business ethics and personal morals.

Since the beginning, even when it was only a dream between friends, Glass Bookshop has led with purpose, and with no small personal toll. As is common throughout small business ownership, Jason and Julie feel stretched thin, but are frequently energized by the support the neighbourhood gives and the spontaneous channels of connection made between bookseller and reader. Rising above the fatigue from lost hours of sleep over accounting, Jason remarks, “The things you do for love, hey?” Thinking about their last five years as a community bookstore, love and care is evident in every iteration of Glass Bookshop.


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.