Spartacus Books is a volunteer-run bookstore. They have created a system of values that encourage the sharing of knowledge, information and services; such as free internet access and computers to marginalized communities and novel enthusiasts alike. We spoke with Ivanhoe, a collective member to learn more about Spartacus Books.
What is your business called and what does it do?
Spartacus Books is a nonprofit, volunteer-run bookstore, resource centre, and event space. More specifically, we are an Infoshop. In addition to selling books, we have free computer and Internet access, free telephone access for local calls, a public washroom, a lending library, a seed library, DVD rentals, and we host a free store organized by the Free Market (a service that originated in Occupy Vancouver in 2011). Events include author readings, book clubs, film screenings, teach-ins, and music performances, and all events are free or pay-what-you-can. We also offer our space for organizing for activists whose values align with our own.
What made you want to do this work?
My values align with those of the Spartacus Books collective. I believe that it’s everyone’s responsibility to acknowledge, reject, and subvert oppressive systems like capitalism, settler colonialism, economic imperialism, militarism, paternalism, competition, carceral justice, white supremacy—anything that empowers one at the expense of another—by exploring cooperative means of solving problems and promoting well-being. I also love interacting with my community. Many of the relationships that are most important to me were forged at Spartacus Books.
What problem did you want to solve with the business?
We want to show people that we can thrive without capitalism, colonialism, and hierarchies. Within the collective, we want to provide an environment for collaboration, experimentation, and teaching each other what we know.
Who are your clientele/demographics?
As a bookshop, our clientele is the Commercial Drive community and all book-loving visitors to our area. While we think we have something to offer everyone, we specialize in leftist political theory and philosophy, including feminist, Indigenous, and critical race, anarchist, socialist, and abolitionist perspectives. As a social space, we try to provide refuge for marginalized people, including the unhoused and those who can’t afford a phone, Internet, etc.
How does your business make money? How does it work?
Primarily, we make money through book sales. We also have an annual sliding-scale membership ($7.50 – $30) that gives members discounts and other perks. We also accept donations, and we have a Patreon campaign where we have generous monthly donors who help keep us afloat.
Where in Vancouver can we find your profession?
We offer a unique experience to volunteers that I don’t think exists anywhere else in Vancouver. There aren’t many places to work where there’s no boss, manager, or supervisor.
What is the best question a prospective customer could ask a member of your profession when comparing services? Give the answer as well.
“What are your values as an organization?”
The answer is in our Basis of Unity, right on the front page of our website.
What is the best part about what you do? What is the worst part?
The best part is feeling like I’m part of something special. Spartacus Books has been around since 1973, and it’s a privilege to carry on its radical legacy here in Vancouver. The challenge is always learning how to resolve differences in a non-hierarchical framework. Most of us weren’t ever taught those skills. It’s also a challenge to live up to our lofty values. Sometimes, we fail and cause harm to our community, and that hurts all of us. But being able to acknowledge that, learn from those mistakes, and become better, both as an organization and as people, ultimately is the best part, and makes us resilient.
What is your favourite joke about your own profession?
Well, this is more of an anecdote. One time I was in the bookshop when a reporter and camera operator from CTV walked in unannounced and said he was doing a piece for the local news about businesses in our neighbourhood. So, I told him about our store and our values and showed him around. He followed up with the question, “Where are your funny books? I want to see some of your funny books!” The closest thing I could think of on short notice was to show him a zine titled A Child’s Guide to Nihilism, a parody activity book filled with nihilist concepts and jokes. Flummoxed, he cocked his head and said, “That’s not funny. You’re teaching kids to believe in nothing!” Clearly, he didn’t get the joke. But his camera operator was laughing so hard at the situation he couldn’t keep the camera still. I don’t think that segment was ever produced.
What are your social media channels?
PAY IT FORWARD: What is another Vancouver business that you love?
The People’s Co-op Bookstore, just seven blocks north of us on the Drive.