Jason Purcell and Matthew Stepanic have created an Edmonton bookshop with the LGBQT2+ community in mind
Interview by Dawson Black
Around two years ago over coffee and tea, Jason Purcell and Matthew Stepanic came together and created what is now known as the Glass Bookshop.
Jason and Matthew had big ideas to make this bookstore stand out from the rest, as it was one of very few local bookstores in Edmonton. Glass Bookshop was invented with the YEG literary community in mind – think of a whole new range of books by authors unknown to most people. Located in its temporary home of the Mercer Market, this bookshop was to be built on the premise of a “local bookstore that would follow a new mandate”.
Part of what inspired me to talk to the owners of Glass Bookshop was their devotion to promoting queer, Black, and Indigenous underrepresented writers/presses as well as local writers from Edmonton.
Although I am not a member of the LGBQT2+ or the Black community, I do come from a line of strong Metis women and I consider myself a strong ally to the community. Seeing authors such as Jesse Thistle, Marilyn Dumont, and Katherena Vermette gave me hope that there would be similar works with Indigenous stories that I could indulge in. Jason and Matthew’s large section of Indigenous writers, and their recommendations of books that were similar to titles I had already read, allows me to have easy access to authors and stories that aren’t well known or on the “MUST READ” Indigo tables.
Glass Bookshop works hard to keep these communities as a central focus for their shop, and that to me makes them an easy first choice for my reading needs. It’s important for me to keep those close to me in mind when choosing what companies I support. Glass Bookshop’s promotion and protection of the “queerest of the queer” (and both owners’ place within the LGBQT2+ community) gave me even more reason to engage and better understand how the bookshop runs.
Jason and Matthew have prominent ties to the literary community of Edmonton. They both have experience working closely with authors who line the shelves of their shop, and they have connections to local presses such as NeWest Press and Stonehouse Originals. It became clear to me why their work was important in promoting local players. Admittedly, I was unaware of some of these authors and presses. And as Jason describes they felt the need to “do something different by highlighting racialized and queer authors or presses that were hard to find”.
One of the biggest draws for me was how they put their ‘new mandate’ of bookstores to the test. It takes a lot of courage to take a step forward and be the one to put such books onto the shelves and hope to make a profit from it.
I was even more impressed when I saw authors had been my past professors and fellow students. Books by Jordan Abel, Julie Rak, and the UofA’s own Creative Writing Club quickly caught my attention. People I knew personally were being promoted and highlighted under Glass’s ‘local writers’ section. I felt satisfaction in knowing that there was at least one bookstore in Edmonton that was giving these writers shelf space.
As most of us have experienced, the past eight months have shifted focus on where we put our money, and where we go to buy things. This can make a huge difference to our community. The Glass Bookshop was an easy choice for me to buy from. I have been working on ‘supporting local’ for a little over two years now and this is one gem that has made my transition easier.
The focus has also shifted for Matthew and Jason. Like many other independent stores, their biggest competitor is Amazon. This means that every time we choose to support a big corporation, we’re taking away from our own community. This has been a topic of academic focus within the history of books and what the future of books will look like. Talking to Matthew and Jason was not just about the bookshop, it was also educational and gave more insight on how much the book and publishing industry can suffer when all sales are through big corporations such as Amazon.
Jason was ready and willing to talk to me about the future of independent bookshops and the importance of supporting local.
His motives were clear and, in these moments, I found myself having similar thoughts and feelings towards the topic. This has been an area of interest for me for years. What’s the ‘future of the book’ look like? Will books still be sold in print if Ebooks are more accessible? Despite the angst towards big corporations and the prevalence of the digital world, Jason was still hopeful. He began by explaining that the “local support has been what allowed us to start in the first place”.
Without this shift towards the independents, he told me, we wouldn’t be given these bookstores that would highlight our very own neighbours, professors, or friends. He also explained how the “three C’s of small bookstores” – community, convening, and curation – have helped situate their outlook for their store. Jason, using the work of Harvard Business School Professor, Ryan L. Raffaeli, extends the idea that the three C’s are exactly how they aim to promote at Glass Bookshop.
For Jason and Matthew, it’s easy to understand why it matters so much to support local.
“We have to remember that we are all one giant ecosystem” is how Jason put it. “Everyone understands the ecosystem we are working in and the need to keep each part of it working”.
When looking at how their bookstore extends beyond the ‘just sell books and stay open’ motto, we see a community that has been formed with the help of authors, academics, publishers, retailers that all have the same goal: the exchange of ideas and commodity within the YEG community.
With the conversation mostly slipping into a very informative direction, I asked for some examples of these authors that have been displayed at the front of the storage locker-esque temporary location. Matthew and Jason were both on the ball and immediately started to name-drop some local Edmonton authors.
Authors such as Billy-Ray Belcourt, Kaitlyn Bristowe, and Alice Major were named alongside professors such as Norma Dunning, Lisa Martin and Natalie Loveless. These are all local writers, poets, even members of publishing and event boards in Edmonton.
I was taken aback at how well Jason and Matthew know their books. This is another aspect of independent bookstores that chain retailers or online stores leave to the wayside. Knowing that those you’re buying the book from have read it, is something that makes purchasing a book that much more personal and meaningful. I’m someone who likes to talk about books I’ve read and seek out similar suggestions, both of which I can do with the owners of Glass Bookshop.
And if you don’t find what you’re looking for? Well, Jason and Matthew make note of that and are open to “bring in work from other authors”.
“Everything we stock is something we want to share”.
Jason and Matthew aren’t just selling books either. They host events that partner with LitFest, the Edmonton Poetry Festival, and the Writers’ Guild of Alberta. They also provide a platform for emerging local writers and artists.
This is all done in the tight quarters they are currently in. Although they have had success in their business, they have always had a “more permanent home” in the making. Matthew shared with me the plans to move into their ‘under construction’ future home in to Stovel Block, located on 97th street and 103rd ave.
The new shop is owned by the same owner as their temporary location, Gather Co., which comes as no surprise given the owner’s commitment to local support. They laughed and shared with me the details of their move and extoled the greatness of the community as the owners have given them space to work with while they wait for the completion of their ‘forever home’.
“The building needs a lot of love”, and for Jason and Matthew makes for a perfect place to call their own.
10363 104 St NW,
AB T5J 1B9
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