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It’s lights out for City Lights Book Shop | CBC News

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City Lights Book Shop co-owner Teresa Tarasewicz likens being an independent bookstore owner to being a unicorn. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC News)

City Lights, the storied bookshop on Richmond St. that began as the backdrop for Marc Emery’s own brand of activism through the 1970s and 80s, is now up for sale after nearly 50 years on the block.

Business partners Teresa Tarasewicz and Jim Capel bought the bookstore in 1992 from the pot activist-turned People’s Party of Canada candidate.

“I believe we might now be the longest standing retail store in the downtown core at 46 years and in the same location,” said Capel.


But every story has an end.

Jim Capel worked at the bookstore for four years before he and his partner purchased the shop in 1992. He also lived upstairs for seven years in the 1990s. (Submitted by Jim Capel)

“We are getting a bit tired and it’s time to retire,” said Tarasewicz from inside the store where the books tower high on a maze of wooden shelves. “City Lights has always been a very rock and roll type of store, and our rock is just starting to slow down, as is our roll.”

We were easily the coolest, funkiest store in town.”– City Lights co-owner Jim Capel

Tarasewicz needs double knee replacement surgery and wants to devote more time caring for her elderly mother. 

“Sometimes when you just physically can’t do the job anymore, you have to pull back and let somebody else explore their hopes and dreams,” she said.

Capel, who first worked for Emery at the store for four years and also lived in a unit upstairs for seven years, lost both of his parents last year. “My family has been through a lot the last few years…so it just feels like now is the time to turn over a new leaf in my life.”

The building is now listed for $769,900.

Both Capel and Tarasewicz leave with heavy hearts.

“It’s the best job I ever had,” said Tarasewicz who began her career teaching film studies. 

“It may sound like a cliché, but we’ve met most of the community, we’ve met the generations, we’ve seen them grow up, fall in love, get married, become grandparents, pass away and other generations come by after them.”

“For a long time, we were easily the coolest, funkiest store in town,” said Capel who feels indebted to the many employees who staffed the store. “I have always loved hearing what customers say about the store. Everything from, ‘You guys are still here?’ to ‘I bought my first Playboy here’ or ‘I love the smell of this place.'”

City Lights Book Shop co-owner Teresa Tarasewicz stands in the doorway where she’s worked for the last 29 years. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC News)

Owners willing to sell name and stock separately

While the building is for sale, Tarasewicz is hopeful the bookstore will be able to continue, whether at the same location or somewhere else.

“It would be great if somebody bought the book store in the building and works on the building as well,” she said, suggesting a developer may be interested in converting the upstairs into apartments.

Tarasewicz said they’d also be willing to sell the City Lights name and all the book stock to a buyer separately from the building.

“We have an extremely loyal customer base, and we think they would follow the name,” she said.

Teresa Tarasewicz, City Lights Book Shop co-owner, says she’s losing energy for a store that has often been ‘rock and roll.’ (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC News)

“We’re hoping that we’re not the last unicorn because of course a bookshop is an interesting proposition in these times,” said Tarasewicz. 

But the business is profitable, she added.

“While we’re well aware that real paper books and bricks and mortar stores are something of an anachronism these days, nothing has ever replaced the charm of browsing through a good book store,” said Capel.

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