Have you ever walked into a business and felt immediately at home?
It has happened to me on a number of occasions, in a variety of neighborhoods and in different parts of the world. It also occurred in Prince George, as I entered a quaint, lively and slightly eccentric (it pulls off all three) bookstore-café called Books and Company in the city’s downtown.
The first time I laid eyes on Books and Co, I knew we would be friends. Indeed, in another life, the nondescript two-story building must have been a little boring. However, akin to the business’ personality, the structure is far from ordinary: it is painted a rich purple with colored bricks and designs adorning its outside walls. It’s one of those laissez-faire exteriors that stands out in its eccentricity, yet somehow looks like it belongs.
Step inside, and it gets even cooler. There is local artwork on the walls, a piano on a raised stage in the corner, and mismatched tables and chairs (the kind people are happy to move around as they see fit) in a semi-chaotic open space which takes up about one-third of the floor space. Look up, and you’ll see sections of musical instruments and a canoe frame jutting out of the high ceilings.
Books and Co is anchored by two of my passions, books and coffee, which go together so perfectly that it is almost hard to believe that not every bookstore has a café, and not every café has a bookstore. But here they are, all mixed into one space. The books are all new, and offer a gamut of choice from local travel to military to biographies to food, and much else that one can think of. My favorite section has a variety of non-fiction books in one area; their unifying factor is that they are all on sale for $7.99. Where else can you get a new fresh book for $7.99 these days? Even Amazon would be discouraged.
On the other side of the space is Café Voltaire, which strategically faces the tables and the $7.99 bookshelf. With made-to-order sandwiches, fresh homemade soups, real-berry yogurt parfaits, and of course, delicious coffee, it creates few reasons to ever want to leave. And unlike some other hip coffee joints, you don’t feel like you’re spending your weekly salary here. A coffee is $2.10, with one free refill. Average these two cups and even Tim Hortons is getting beaten on pure dollar value. In addition, personal punch cards keep track of coffee intake: after 10 coffees, the 11th is free. Mine has 21 holes as of the New Year.
If all that wasn’t enough, Books and Co also features an outdoor patio (complete with trees for shade) as well as live music indoors. The first-floor space regularly hosts instrumental bands (mainly jazz) on Friday evenings, while the second floor of the building, known as Artspace, regularly attracts Northern BC’s hottest performers throughout the week and weekend.
The entire building exudes an awesome vibe. Its mix of bookstore, café, and live music are perfectly entwined, where the overall experience is worth more than any single entity. In today’s big-box retail and Amazon world, businesses like Books and Co are a refreshing breath of character and authenticity. It does feel like home.