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Hidden away, in a busy somewhat shabby corner of Vancouver there lies a mysterious little bookstore. It looks like a mere, quaint bookstore amidst the other heritage buildings, simple in design, with a bright and large sign alluding to a time of community and radical activism.

Little do passer-by’s know, there is inspiration of a revolution brewing behind these walls, one book at a time. If you are a reader of magazines such as Adbusters, or a follower of political writer Naomi Klein, I have found your mecca and it is called Spartacus Books.

From its early beginning in 1972 as a table held by SFU students, Spartacus Books has grown, expanded, burned down, moved twice, and inspired countless like-minded individuals through unique literature. Spartacus Books spawned from the desire to distribute “radical books that aren’t available elsewhere” says Alexander Daughtry. Almost 40 years later, the bookstore is now a volunteer-run collective, still vibrant, and continuing to “put tools in people’s hands to inspire and create social change” says Daughtry, volunteer since 1976.

In terms of titles, varied selection is not something that’s missing from the shelves; books range from history, fiction, poetry, graphic novels, gardening, psychology, DIY and queer literature, including countless publications on anarchism, socialism and Marxism theory, and recipe books on how to organize, which are all very reasonably priced.

After the fire of April 2004 that burned down its previous location at Victory Square on W Hastings, Spartacus lost what Alexander recalls as “the biggest and best selection in the English language”. He goes on to describe the incredible community support the store received after moving next door, which took form of hundreds of book donations as well as fundraisers to keep the place running. Unfortunately, due to staggeringly high rent, the book store moved two years later to its current location at 684 E Hastings. The bookstore is now on a bus route, easily accessible and noticeable.

In its mission to provide tools for social change, Spartacus Books also serves as a venue for meetings and gatherings. Events in the past have included poetry readings and concerts, and the next upcoming event is a meeting by the Vancouver Media Co-op. With free computer and Internet access, Spartacus Books is all in all, more than just a bookstore; it is also a resource centre for social change.

Spartacus Books is not affiliated with any organizations, but it supports progressive movements by allowing these to put up posters and flyers around the store. In the past, these have included Under the Volcano Festival and the protests surrounding the G8-G20 meetings.

It is a comfortable niche, where one can buy a book that debunks neoclassical economics, pick up a t-shirt supporting independent media, and learn about a new environmental movement. If this is something that interests you, Daughtry recommends dropping by and consider donating some time since the bookstore is currently in need of new volunteers. He goes on to say that without Spartacus Books, “people would have to rely on mainstream media, and they would know a lot less. The bookstore helps people organize and get things changed. People can get an alternative here”. 

Originally published in The Capilano Courier, September 2010

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