Local book store thrives by being community ‘hub’

Local artist Matt Gunn performing at Blue Heron Books for his album release lunch.

At a time when many people’s books arrive by delivery in a cardboard box, an Uxbridge book store is doing things differently.

Blue Heron Books has been in the community for more than 30 years and is a “hub” for arts and culture in the Uxbridge area, according to manager Will McGuirk, a DC journalism graduate and former pressman at the Toronto Star.

The store holds writing classes, book clubs, author meet and greets, art shows, dance classes and even yoga classes in the back studio, he says.

“This is a community hub,” says McGuirk. “Artists from all around the area come here. We have great conversations, there are lots of ideas.”

Greg Murphy, dean of the School of Media, Art & Design, has family ties to the store through his mother and has stopped by many times.

His mother is friends with the original owner, Barbara Pratt, and he knows the new owner, Shelley Macbeth.

“It’s really, truly an old-fashioned bookstore that is at the centre of Uxbridge’s culture, and it’s a very rich culture,” he says.

Authors Iain Reid, Nathan Ripley, and Craig Davidson will be guests at an upcoming meet and greet on Nov 4.

Blue Heron Books also partners with local schools to make sure materials in the curriculum, including novels, are always in stock and provide teachers with current titles.

“We try to stay ahead of what is going to be current, and that’s what Shelley does quite well,” says McGuirk.

With new technology such as online shopping, Blue Heron Books has kept up with the times by adding an online bookstore to its website. The store also promotes and sells local musicians’ records alongside books and book merchandise.

Because the shop tries to stay fresh, it has been recognized as one of the best bookshops in North America by The Globe and Mail this year and in 2011.

Murphy says the store represents “a profound commitment to the arts in all the forms,” including writing, singing, spoken word, visual art, and film.

“Every time I open up a (delivery) box I am amazed at the stuff that comes in. I’m just like, ‘oh my god, I just want to read that book’,” says McGuirk.

Uxbridge has about 21,000 people and has many attractions for arts besides Blue Heron Books. The town hosts events such as a short film festival, art shows and even recitals as part of the annual Uxbridge Celebration of the Arts festival that began 25 years ago.

Blue Heron Books on Brock St in Uxbridge.