Queen Books is what happens when two besties get together to do something wonderful (hmm, we at Love, Mom can relate). Co-owned by Alex Snider and Liz Burns, the pair recently opened their bookstore in the bustling ‘hood of Leslieville in Toronto. With many independent bookstores shuttering their doors it’s a bold move, especially for Alex who recently became a first-time mom (she gave birth just hours after the store opened). Liz says that it was the community that confirmed their decision to take the leap. “Alex and I worked together at a bookstore before opening Queen Books. We had so many customers who came in and told us they used to shop on Amazon but they missed the experience of coming in to an honest-to-goodness bookstore and speaking to an actual human being.”
SHOP TALK WITH LIZ AND ALEX
Where does your passion for books come from?
LIZ: I’ve been a huge reader since I was a little girl. I was a pretty lonely kid and we moved around a bit so reading was my escape and comfort – I completely lost myself in books for about 3 years. It was a formative experience.
ALEX: I was the only child in my family for nearly five years so I had the undivided attention of my parents and grandparents all of whom were massive readers this of course translated into A LOT of story-time and a huge picture book library. That early initiation into the world of reading really set me up for life, with books serving as entertainment, education and new ways to see the world. If I don’t have a book on the go I feel unbalanced.
Walking into the store, you immediately get a sense of warmth and coziness, plus it’s very Pinterest-worthy. What was your design inspiration?
LIZ: We wanted it to feel like a “cool” living room. Somewhere you would feel comfortable bringing your kids and dogs, hanging out, and talking about books! We talked a lot about the feeling we wanted, and we looked on Pinterest for inspiration but I think we already had an idea of what we wanted. It has a similar vibe to my living room at home, but it’s cleaner and has less baby and dog stuff scattered around. And the plants are all alive.
ALEX: We wanted a space that would just inspire people to want to drop everything and just start reading. Plants and books are really the best decorating hacks out there.
Before opening you asked for book suggestions from the people in the neighbourhood. What were some book requests that surprised you?
LIZ: Lots of requests for French children’s books!
ALEX: We’ve actually had to expand our French section already! It was a huge relief to see so many requests for books/sections that we had already planned on stocking so we knew we were on the right track.
We know that Liz just had a baby. How are you both managing to juggle work and family?
LIZ: We aren’t! Alex has been running the shop for us. I really trust her expertise and judgement which has been so great for my peace of mind and has really allowed me to focus on the baby and learning how to take care of him. I’ve mainly been sitting on the couch, nursing Sam and messaging her for hourly updates. It’s weird not to be there with her. Sam and I are going to start going in a couple weeks, once we hit the 6 week mark!
ALEX: For the first month of being open I was just going straight home after work to sleep — there wasn’t a life/work balance. But we have a couple of really great women working at the store so I’m able now to take a few hours off here and there. I can finally clean my house and have meaningful conversations again!
What would you describe as your best skill-set when it comes to running your own retail business?
LIZ: I love the challenge of finding the right book for someone, or the right gift. It requires both listening and enthusiasm and I’m good at it!
ALEX: And I love the challenge of finding and ordering those right books so we already have them in stock. It gives me such pleasure to be able to anticipate our customers’ book needs, whether for the newest release, a hard-to-find classic or a book they didn’t know existed — sort of like a book diviner.
You also make a point to introduce local writers into the mix. Who are some of your favourites?
ALEX: There are a tonne of writers, poets and illustrators who live or work in the neighbourhood and it’s been thrilling to meet so many talented people. I have to say that the wonderful authors who came out to support us on Authors for Indies (an annual Canada-wide event where writers go and work at independent bookstores) blew me away with their generosity of time — Carey Sookocheff, Guy Gavriel Kay, Kevin Sylvester, Tanis Rideout, Sarah Vermunt, Kim Echlin, Eric Beck Rubin, Kamal Al-Solaylee, Jessica Westhead, Kate Hilton. and Adam Bunch. It was only a couple weeks after we opened and having them show up on such short notice meant the world to us.
What would you say has been your biggest accomplishment so far?
LIZ: Getting the space ready and the store open before the baby came!
ALEX: Ensuring that the shelves are fully stocked and staying somewhat on top of my email inbox. And keeping the plants alive!
WHAT’S ON THEIR READING LIST
Alex’s picks (clockwise from top left): Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood, and Tell: Poems for a Girlhood by Soraya Peerbaye.
Liz’s picks (clockwise from top left):s The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson, Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison, The Complete Patrick Melrose by Edward St. Aubyn, and All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews.