Upstart & Crow: Not Your Typical Bookstore

Inspiring bookworms to rekindle their love for literature through curated collections 

Alexis Zygan // Contributor

In August 2020, a brand new literary space opened in Vancouver with a vision to do more than just sell books. “I like the partnership we have created with people. There is that buzz you get connecting with humans through stories,” said Zoë Grams, co-owner of Upstart & Crow Literary Arts Studio. 

Upstart & Crow resides between art studios and artisans on quaint Granville Island. Grams and co-owner Ian Gill hope to bridge the gap of literary hubs in Vancouver. A city with a vibrant publishing scene depends on spaces where writers muse and collaborate. “Like many bibliophiles, we dreamed about opening up a literary space and certainly from my perspective, we actually have few literary spaces,” said Grams. Working alongside Grams’ architect dad they brought their vision to life, constructing wooden tables and floor-to-ceiling shelving, with an upstairs loft designed for a writer in residence. 

Their vision for Upstart & Crow is to cultivate an environment where people engage in storytelling and gather for workshops. Upstart & Crow’s Indigenous Library Partnership promotes reading by supplying books to Thistalalh Memorial Library, located in the coastal town of Bella Bella on Haíɫzaqv (Heiltsuk) territory in the Great Bear Rainforest. 

Despite the loss of foot traffic during COVID-19, Granville Island is a prime tourist destination. Since opening in August 2019, Upstart & Crow managed to establish community relationships with their neighbours and engage with local bibliophiles. 

The book subscription program from Upstart & Crow creates a customizable reading experience that fits an individual’s specific literary material desires by providing them with a handpicked book from the catalogue every month. The books will be on the theme of self-care, escapism from anxieties, travelling to space, or whatever else seems like a good fit. Even though not every selection will be perfect, Grams has been delighted by feedback where readers felt seen. “We want to introduce people to stories, books and ideas they wouldn’t have considered otherwise,” he said. Upstart & Crow also showcases books translated to English from other languages in addition to supporting homegrown talent.

Many folks are switching to digital mediums to connect with literature—such as e-readers or audiobooks—others prefer physical books. It is imperative to acknowledge how colonial culture gives precedence to written work. “Reducing the [divisions] between different types of storytelling mediums will just continue in the 21st century,” said Grams. Even though the publishing industry predicted a decline in sales when e-readers emerged, that has not been the case according to the Association of American Publishers 2019 report. People continue to purchase books from bookstores such as Upstart & Crow for a rich sensory experience. What matters is that people are connecting with stories regardless of whether it’s through indigenous spoken words, girthy adventure novels, or e-books. 

Upstart & Crow’s retail model focuses on selling stories printed on paper. “I think the main thing is not being intellectually stauvish about storytelling mediums; all storytelling is valid and should all be celebrated and cultivated,” said Grams. 

For folks like myself, who never read for pleasure during university due to an overwhelming workload, there are ways to embrace the joy of reading once more. Firstly, it is okay to take a break from anything if it is not serving you at that moment. “Don’t sweat it. Read what appeals to you most at the moment, any genre or style. Don’t feel like you have to go from beginning to end,” said Grams. “Dip in, and eventually, you’ll find that book where you stay up way too late reading it. That will happen; just be patient about when that click comes again.” 

Upstart & Crow is open five days a week, Tuesday through Sunday, from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. Learn more at https://upstartandcrow.com.

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