Bibliophiles will no longer have to leave Big Rock Country to quench a voracious thirst for reading.
Okotoks’ Byerley family is making sure books are available for purchase in town as they launch Yooneek Books, an independent bookstore in the heart of the River District, in late August.
“It started fall 2020, I had got laid off from a job I had worked in Calgary for 14 years, or something like that, and it was the first time I had ever been unemployed or been laid off before,” said Sean Byerley of Yooneek Books. “At the very beginning I thought ‘okay, I’ll take a couple weeks here, relax, read a little bit, watch TV and catch up on some movies.'
“I drove into Calgary and went to Chapters, bought a book, came home and read the book and within a couple days went back to Calgary to get a couple more books, read those books and repeated that three or four times.
“It kind of occurred to me that there’s no bookstore in Okotoks.”
After researching the hole in the market, and the scarcity of bookstores in the southern part of the province, Byerley decided to do something about it.
“I started to dig deeper into that industry and running some numbers, I knew that Okotoks had versions of bookstores in the past, but they hadn’t had one for a long-time as far as I could remember,” he said.
“I kept looking into it and decided to take the plunge and move forward with the idea.”
The demand for an independent bookstore in the community was felt from the jump.
From offers to help set up the store, to job inquiries the community of readers came out in droves.
“We saw right away, as we started moving forward with this, we had told almost nobody what we were doing just in case it didn’t work out, including our own families,” Byerley said. “And then as we progressed a little bit, we told a couple people, our kids go to school and they told some of their friends.
“Then all of a sudden we started seeing right away on Facebook, and just talking to people that there started being a bit of a buzz about a bookstore coming to town. You could see how excited people were right off the bat.
“We’ve been contacted by all sorts of people looking to help us, people have been saying ‘before you open, we’ll come help you for free, we’ll help you set your books all up.’ We’ve had young people through town drop resumés off, offering to help for free.
“There’s been an incredible, almost like a coming together in the community around the bookstore.”
The emphasis on supporting local, that has reinforced tenfold during the pandemic, has been one of the driving forces for the bookstore vision to become a reality.
“I think COVID really brought that out, it’s almost like a movement, supporting local businesses,” he said. “And I think it’s very important for people to realize that when you do that, that money you’re spending at local shops downtown in Okotoks, or whatever town you live in, it’s actually directly going back into that community because these are all community members running these small little shops.
“I think it’s hugely important, and people are realizing too that it’s time to maybe not give so much of their hard-earned money to these mega-corporations that basically take away from your community and nothing ever goes back.
“So I think that (movement) has staying power and we’ll see over the years that it’s going to become more and more important.”
When it came to the first rule of real estate, Byerley admitted the location on McRae Street came with a bit of fortune after other potential sites fell through.
“We really just stumbled onto that,” he said. “I looked online at some of the pictures there for the listing they had and it just looked really odd. It was a hearing centre before and they had this hearing testing room and a kitchen, it was more set up as an office. And it’s very small so looking online we didn’t know if it would work so we pursued a few different other places.
“We looked at it, hemmed and hawed over it, the location is just killer, right next to Monkey Mountain, right in the heart of downtown. So I got the realtor to draw up the rough dimensions of the building and came home and drew it up on AutoCAD, placed bookshelves throughout it to see the space we would actually have.
“We figured we would be able to do something to make it work.”
To make the space their own, they sought expert help from Okotoks-based company Mountainview Carpentry + Design.
“We were blown away by the foresight and design (they) were able to bring to it,” Byerley added.
With a background in engineering, Byerley added an MBA through distance learning which with the enormous required reading reinforced it as a pastime.
Though he favours the non-fiction reads, Yooneek plans to have a wide array of options with its inventory.
“To date we’re ordering a variety of anything you can think of, fiction, non-fiction, kids books, young adult books, every category that made sense for us to put in there,” he added. “We definitely want to be supporting local artists around town and in the area. We’ve been contacted already, people that have been following our social media as we move towards opening.
“We’ve had a local lady in Okotoks who has a series of books, I think her fourth book comes out sometime in October, and she wants to work with us to possibly have a book release type party.
“We’re looking forward to trying to work some of that into the store.”
It’s very much a family business with Sean and his wife Rae-Lynne and their two sons Weston, 14, and Kolton, 12, each adding their own unique skill sets to Yooneek.
“The kids, it’s been something, especially with the last year and how crazy it’s been, it’s really given them something to look forward to and they’ve really enjoyed participating where they can,” he said. “There’s little tasks they can help us with, they’ve made little (promo) videos, we have giftbags with our logo on a stamp and they’ve been doing that and helping sort books.
“And they’re also a good resource for what books do we need to order? What are the kids reading in class or what are you guys interested in? Stuff that me or my wife may not be so familiar with.”
Entering unfamiliar territory with the launch of a small business is a mixture of anxiousness and excitement for the folks behind Yooneek.
“Throughout this whole process there’s been ups and downs, it’s been tough to navigate how to do this, we have children, a house and responsibilities to those people and to take a risk like this has been very difficult for me mentally, especially having such a long, stable career at the last place I worked” he added.
“As time has gone on and things keep working out, keep moving forward, now that we’re getting close and a few weeks from opening, we’re starting to see books come in, looking at them, sorting them out you can feel the excitement within our family building.
“Every time the UPS guy comes to drop off a box it’s just giddiness to open it up and see what’s inside, sort it out and enter it into our system and just keep moving forward. It’s been really exciting these last few weeks.”
For the latest on Yooneek, follow them on social media on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and visit the website at yooneekbooks.ca