“Shared love of books fosters a wonderful community,” said Sarah Summerhill, co-owner of Birdhouse Books. “People are so passionate about the books that have made them who they are.”
As life partners, Sarah Summerhill and Lucas Gubala have always had a deep love of reading, so much so that when their book collection began to outgrow their shelves at home, they decided to become business partners and share their collection with the community.
Located in downtown Vancouver at 1001 Main St., Birdhouse Books is a used bookstore that caters to bookworms, artists, creatives and lovers of everything vintage. The store is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday every week.
Birdhouse outgrew its space last year within a year of first opening, and it relocated from its upstairs location to the spot below it at the end of last year.
“Our old location was so beautiful, but it was very small. We had to limit our entire fiction section to just four shelves at first,” Summerhill said. “So when we discovered there was a vacancy for a larger space downstairs, we jumped at the opportunity.”
While the store’s primary focus is selling antique books sourced from local estate sales and customer donations, Birdhouse is also host to a wide variety of other vintage-inspired items such as ceramics, book bags and art created by local artists.
Unlike your larger chain or franchise bookstores, which are often mazes, Birdhouse focuses on creating an open, cozy and welcoming environment where customers feel free to relax and stay awhile as they peruse the store’s wares.
With comfy chairs and couches peppered throughout the shop and a selection of coffee and tea, Summerhill and Gubala have taken great care to make sure everyone who walks through their door feels right at home. The friendly atmosphere makes the owners’ hard work all the more rewarding as they get to share and connect with their customers.
“Making friends and forming communities is my favorite part of the work we do here,” Gubala said. “I’ll never be able to read all the books we have in the store, but because of the discussions I have with our customers, I don’t have to. I love that I get to learn so much from the people we meet through Birdhouse.”
The cozy atmosphere certainly helps relieve the stress of the day-to-day grind for owners and customers alike, as the pair discussed the challenges of being small-business owners.
“Each day is different,” Summerhill said. “Some days we’re absolutely slammed with customers. Other days only a handful of people come in. Some days we spend reading, and some days we spend all day answering emails, going through donations and endlessly sorting inventory.”
In addition to the day-to-day shopkeeping, Birdhouse Books also conducts a wide variety of community events, as well as maintaining their in-house art gallery where they rotate through showcases of works from local artists.
“It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s so much fun,” Summerhill said. “I personally think the world needs more small businesses, so I hope that people who are interested in starting a business choose to make the leap. There’s lots of space for that in the world right now.”
The duo also cites the welcoming and supportive culture of fellow businesses downtown as another key to their success.
“Being part of the downtown Vancouver community is one of my favorite parts of running the bookstore,” Summerhill said. “We’ve been able to work together with several other small businesses in the area. There is so much support for small businesses downtown, it certainly makes our job easier and more rewarding.”
While the process of running a small business hasn’t been without its fair share of challenges, with the friendly and tight-knit community they’ve made through Birdhouse Books, Summerhill and Gubala certainly aren’t looking to leave the nest anytime soon.