Otter Books owner Letty Bartels and store staff Catherine Fisher

Otter Books: A literary destination

Nelson book store celebrating 10 years in the downtown area.

Otter Books is celebrating its 10th anniversary this Saturday.

The independent book store at the corner of Baker and Stanley streets is the prospering reincarnation of Oliver’s Books, a book seller that held down that corner location for some 30 years before Letty Bartels took it over.

“I think it’s really important to have a bookstore in the heart of downtown, especially for a community of our size,” Bartels said, explaining that Oliver’s stock had been dwindling for years before it closed. She turned the store into the bustling business it is now.

These days Otter Books is full of new titles in fiction and non-fiction. It sells books by local authors on consignment. The shop is a popular destination for locals and visitors alike.

“We get tons of tourists coming through in the summer. We’re like the honourary information centre,” Bartels said. “People come in for maps or guidebooks and we end up suggesting places to see and the best restaurants to eat at.”

Bartels was co-owner of Secret Garden Toys before getting into the book business, which is where she always dreamed she’d end up. A prolific reader, she loves coming to work every day and being surrounded by literature.

“It’s always a joy to recommend a great book to someone,” she said. “I think in this age of over consumerism, books are a really healthy thing to be selling.”

When there’re literary events in town — be it an author reading, a writer’s festival or the annual Kootenay Literary Festival gala — you’ll see the Otter Books table set up selling copies of the titles being discussed. The store also hosts book signings for local writers and partners with other organizations to bring famous authors to town.

One of the more memorable events Otter Books had a part in was seven years ago when environmentalist David Suzuki came to town to promote his autobiography. Some 1,200 people attended the event and $8,000 was raised for the David Suzuki foundation.

The store is big on supporting charities. A portion of all sales is donated to the Stephen Lewis Foundation to support orphans in Africa whose parents died of AIDS, and each year on World AIDS Day (December 1) all profits from the day are donated to the foundation. Over the years Otter Books has sent around $45,000 to the cause.

Bartels said her helpful staff and a loyal customer base are the main reason the store has done as well as it has for the past 10 years.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long,” she laughed. “It’s like they say about doing what you love — it never feels like work.”

On November 2, Otter Books is celebrating this milestone with a costume party and author reading in the store from 7 to 9 p.m. Patrons are encouraged to dress as a character, author or book they love.

There will be cake and refreshments, as well as literary-themed games and readings by some of the store’s best selling local authors, including Anne DeGrace and Ernest Hekkanen.

All are welcome to attend. Dress up is option.

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