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Book Warehouse cofounder Sharman King provides a creative hub for Vancouver book lovers and musicians.
Book Warehouse founder Sharman King, 63, among the stacks at the Vancouver flagship store on Broadway and Ash.
Sharman King was 33 years old when he and two musician friends founded Book Warehouse, now one of Vancouver’s best-loved independent sources for discount books. That was 30 years ago—two years after he joined the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, where he still plays bass trombone.
632 Broadway (near Ash)
4444 W. 10th (near Trimble)
1068 Homer (near Nelson)
1051 Davie (near Thurlow)
1524 Lonsdale (near 16th), North Vancouver
Book Warehouse was founded on a desire to bring a discount-books model to Vancouver, previously seen only in Toronto. The company has expanded from its flagship store on Broadway and Ash to five locations across the city.
Meanwhile, King has collaborated with professional musicians from across North America on a variety of projects, including stints on variety television shows, commercial jingles, and pop and jazz recordings. King is currently active in the UBC School of Music Mentorship Program and as a board member of the National Youth Orchestra of Canada.
Through the years, King has accomplished what would seem like an impossible feat for some: he’s combined his love of books and music into a passionate, lifelong career, building community and a cultural legacy that reflect his values.
Book Warehouse has expanded from this first Broadway store to include five Vancouver locations.
“I’m a lucky man,” King says. We’re sitting in his office upstairs from the flagship store on Broadway and Ash.
“Working as a music teacher was, in many ways, similar to working as a bookstore owner.”
King talks about his bookstore staff and former music students with affectionate, fatherly pride. He’s kept in touch with previous students and staffers and speaks fondly of their accomplishments, from new careers to children and marriages.
In the bookstores and in the university music departments where King worked as an instructor, friendships and creative partnerships flourished. Book Warehouse’s large, motley staff has consisted of writers, photographers, artists, students, parents and more; King estimates at least 800 people have worked at his stores since the first shop opened in 1980.
As was the case with King’s former music students, many former bookstore employees developed friendships that outlasted their time behind the counter.
“The community that develops from shared work—at the bookstore, in an orchestra or elsewhere—is an essential aspect of a creative life that must be protected,” King says. “Communities fertilize themselves in creativity.”
But fostering creative communities is now more difficult than it once was. “People work in far more isolated conditions these days… it’s a hard for many people in the arts to get the [creative] stimulation they used to get.”
Back when King was working as a musician in the 1970s, he’d meet musicians, dancers and other potential collaborators on a regular basis, whether it was through working on the set of a variety television show or through mutual friends. The digital world can be isolating, he says.
In order for creative communities to keep growing, we need to share more creative time together in offline, physical spaces.
Sharman King is an ardent supporter of local booksellers and businesses, choosing to buy from them instead of more affordably priced book sources in Toronto and the US.
Amidst big-box competition and a long history of bookstores forced to close in Vancouver, King attributes the ongoing success of Book Warehouse to commonsense business smarts. He’s built his business on conservative operating principles, no debt since the store’s first operating year, paying bills on time and never taking on more inventory than the store can handle.
King has been a voracious reader since he was a child growing up in Trail, BC, where he would frequent the local library. But he has trouble naming a favourite book.
“I wouldn’t want to narrow it down to a book,” he says. “I would narrow it down to the general habit of assimilating knowledge through reading. That it can take you places that you could never go—physically, emotionally, intellectually, sexually. You name any way and you can go there in a book.”
“As our civilization evolves, the breadth of education we give our young people is paramount. We need to have a general arts education. We have to know history,” he continues.
“We need to be aware. And the best way to be aware is lots of reading. It’s a crucial thing. We need to keep that intellectual curiosity and growth going in as many people as we can.”