“We’re bringing something new to the neighbourhood. Verdun already has a few bookstores, but none of them specialize in English books, so we saw there was a gap there that needed filling,” Alex Nierenhausen says over the phone.
“And who doesn’t love to sit with a coffee, enjoy their book, and talk with a bookseller?” adds Daphnée Anctil.
“I love a space that offers that. There aren’t many in Montreal. It’s just the best way to enjoy a book.”
Under construction since the summer and officially opening its doors on December 9 this year, Alex and Daphnée are behind Verdun’s Pulp Books.
It's a new bookstore flying in the face of tech like e-readers and audio books, as well as corporatocracies of online retailers and big box stores (that shall not be named) which have all but dominated literature retail spaces for so long.
BORN IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD, MOLDED BY IT
“When we started talking about our initial stock for the store, I’ve learned that you have to let your neighbourhood and regulars dictate what goes on your shelves,” Alex explains, saying that they and Daphnée expect it could take as many two or three years before it’ll reach a zenith.
Not to say it’ll be sparse at Pulp Books. Alex and Daphnée say it’s small, but it’s far from nothing at 1,200 square feet and as many as 10,000 books to peruse.
They'll host events as well as readings and signings that’ll pull from across the country, curate featured titles, and have gone so far as to fit the shop out with a coffee bar for espresso drinks (and maybe a potential liquor license!), plus a terrasse out front in the summer.
It’s a strong, promising start to the kind of 'third place' a community needs to have outside of their first place of home and second place of work: A third place where people can gather for enrichingly cultural and social purposes.
Having both worked in bookselling previously, the owners know how curating collections for a neighbourhood can do well, as both Alex and Daphnée have experience from Librairie Saint-Henri Books. At Pulp, they'll start by focusing on contemporary, literary, kids, graphic and genre fiction alongside non-fiction like cookbooks, history, and more.
The original concept for the space pulls from the golden age of Montreal in the 1970's, but not as some cute simulacrum. Think of your grandmother’s basement at that time, but two millennials came in, fucked it up a bit maybe, and made it cool: Modern with intentional throwbacks, like orange shelves, dark purples and creams, and a previous vinyl flooring replaced with terrazzo.
As for the name? It’s partly tied to the collection. “We just love horror. Like pulpy, gory things. But it’s also a play on words with pulp in terms of paper,” Daphnée explains.
“We’re not judgmental at all. You should be able to walk in and ask for a romance novel without being ashamed. We watch all kinds of trash TV, so we should be able to read ‘trash’ too,” she adds.
We know there’s a demand for these books, whether it’s from anglophones or francophones reading in either language. So do we want those sales going to big box stores, or for them to be accessible in your neighbourhood?
YEAH, IT’S ENGLISH. ET ALORS ?
“We’re always able to serve people in French. I’m a francophone and Alex is fluent,” says Daphnée. “We know there’s a demand for these books, whether it’s from anglophones or francophones reading in either language. So do we want those sales going to big box stores, or for them to be accessible in your neighbourhood?”
“We’re Quebecois. We were born here, raised here, we’re from this province and love this province, love both languages—this whole project is about bridging gaps,” Alex adds.
Even with the current atmosphere surrounding the Legault government, making a space for the English language in Verdun (let alone Montreal or Quebec) is less a political act and more about filling needs that genuinely exist.
The two booksellers know there are Quebecois authors writing in English and having their work translated into English, and—perhaps most importantly—that there are people want to read them in English.
We love the industry, we love the community it builds, we love talking to people, and talking about books.
A CLEAN, WELL-READ PLACE
So why was it so important to create a space not only for browsing and discussing books at all, but a place for people to stay a while? “Part of enjoying bookselling is enjoying talking to people, and getting to know your neighbourhood,” Daphnée says.
“It’s a very selfish project on Daphnée and I’s part,” Alex jokingly adds. “We love the industry, we love the community it builds, we love talking to people, and talking about books.”
There’s something romantic about tactile books—the smell and feel of them, the feeling when you finish one—that lends itself well to readership, and that readership is not dying. It's pivoting.
Coming to their neighbourhood—let alone their industry—at a time when the tsunami of changes for bookselling have all but reduced to weak waves on the shore, customers are now craving more authentic interactions, and Pulp Books feels far from a gamble.
“It’s definitely risky. Opening any business in this day and age comes with that, but there’s something to be said about the resurgence of the neighbourhood bookstore. People are still reading. Everybody thought Kindles were going to take over at some point, and they didn’t,” Alex explains.
“There’s something romantic about tactile books—the smell and feel of them, the feeling when you finish one—that lends itself well to readership, and that readership is not dying. It's pivoting.”
As people who have experienced the death of, say, the video store? All told, Pulp's owners believe people want that in-person experience more, and most of all a sense of discoverability in their neighbourhood.
Pulp Books (Librairie Pulp Books & Café) is now open at 3952 Wellington.