By Kendra Seguin
Once upon a time, an 11-year-old Tamara Gorin took her first of many solo trips to the library, embarking on what would be the first chapter of a journey towards a bookish future.
All alone, she skipped through her complex and boarded a bus at a stop in south Vancouver, feeling confident and free. The bus driver looked out for her as she rode 10 minutes up the hill to what was then called Oakridge Mall, where she skipped off the bus, through the parking lot, and down the stairs to the library.
At first, she spent her time in the children’s section, reading from the same colourful pages as others her age. Then, she began exploring. She searched for books about the things she saw on TV and in the news: non-fiction about animals, nature and science. Gorin recalls herself as “one of those kids,” lying with her stomach flat on the ground, chin resting in her hands, piles of books surrounding her.
“Libraries are like houses that contain all the stories,” she says over 40 years later while sitting among stacked piles and packed shelves of books at her store, Western Sky Books, in Port Coquitlam, B.C.
The storefront, tucked around the corner from a paint store and somewhat concealed by the supermarket across the alley, looks tiny, making one ask themselves how many books could possibly be within. Upon entering, it becomes clear that the answer is many. The store runs deep with high shelves jammed with new and used books from top to bottom.
To the left of the entrance is the checkout surrounded by small tables and cases featuring products by local artisans. To the right, high above the top of the first bookshelf, is a row of framed artwork by local artists. Part of Gorin’s mission at Western Sky Books is to create a space where artists and writers unite.
Sitting between the back counter and children’s section, Gorin wears a mainly monochromatic outfit, matching her blue shirt, skirt, and boots. Covering her arms on this cold February morning is a grey hoodie, with the sleeves pushed up to reveal a peak of her tattoos. The bottom half of her face is concealed by a black mask, but her eyes are expressive when she speaks.
Gorin and her partner, Dianne Ganz, opened Western Sky Books in 2017.
The decision came when Gorin was planning to step away from her work in activism and social services. When deciding what to do next, it was Gorin’s mother who reminded her of an old dream to open a bookstore.
“What she wanted to do was open a bookshop at a coffee shop,” says Gorin of her late mother. “We would always talk about it.”
In reflecting on this, Gorin and Ganz realized that their own relationship was also rooted in spending time at bookstores.
“How do we spend our time when we go away? We go to bookstores. What do we do when we only have one day off? We drive to Chilliwack [B.C.] and go to the bookstore. We spend all of our time in bookstores.”
After these conversations, Gorin said everything fell into place. She took a small business course, submitted a business plan, and soon after, Western Sky Books came to life.
Gorin says she tries to honour her mom through the values of the store.
“Partly why I’m not a snob about the books that I sell is because of her,” says Gorin. “She had a deep understanding of the world…but she loved a spy thriller.”
Gorin says that if her mom was still here, she would likely set up camp in Western Sky Books — curled in a chair, chin resting in her hands, piles of books surrounding her.