Dan Williams of Wayside Select Books & Art, Osoyoos
Wayside Select Books & Art aims to fund, support community service projects
It’s been years since Osoyoos had a dedicated used bookstore. That changed in May when Wayside Select Books & Art opened its doors on Main Street.
It’s no ordinary used bookstore. Instead, the brainchild of Dan Williams and his informal volunteer group aims to raise funds for community service projects in and around Osoyoos.
Williams and his wife Sharon came to Osoyoos from the Vancouver area early in 2020, committed to starting a new life and a new project. He was a retired pastor with the Evangelical Free Church and his wife had retired as a public health nurse. They had often vacationed here with their family.
“We thought why not put the project together where we like to vacation and turn it into an actual place where we lived,” said Williams. “So that was our choice.”
But their arrival in Osoyoos just as the Covid pandemic hit forced them to rethink their plans.
“Covid absolutely required two approaches,” said Williams. “One was just to harass our neighbours,” and form a core nondenominational group known as the Wayside Community. It now has about 20 people but could use more.
The second approach was to find existing community service projects and to piggyback onto them and pitch in where needed.
Williams acknowledges that his own involvement reflects his religious background and “isn’t just secular,” but he believes others in the group have different motives.
“Their motivation is very much to be doing something in the community… and looking for some meaning between golf games,” he said, noting that most of the group members are retired.
He soon connected with Pastor Phil Johnson of Osoyoos Baptist Church, where he learned they needed help for a parallel program to the Osoyoos Food Bank called Food Mesh. This provincewide program seeks to divert to the food bank fresh produce and other foods that are close to their sell-by dates and might otherwise end up in the landfill.
“Our group signed on to be part of the crew that collects food and gets it to the food bank,” Williams said.
They also contacted the United Church Thrift Store and volunteered to serve as “shed heads,” people who come in at the end of the day to help with cleanup.
“This involves quite a lot of heavy lifting, recycling, garbage,” said Williams. “It’s a very important part of their operation.”
Some members of the Wayside Community find their own ways to help. One collects golf balls that go astray and land at the housing complex where Williams and other group members live. He sells hundreds of these golf balls back to the same golfers that hit them off the course, donating the money raised to the food bank.
“We don’t always operate top down,” Williams said. “It’s not all coming from me or a committee, but we do help to facilitate anyone’s good idea.”
Another community project that volunteers from Wayside Community are helping with is maintenance of Pioneer Walkway on Monday mornings. Williams learned of their need for help while out walking.
“They are getting older and smaller in number,” he said, adding that his group now provides up to half the volunteers, and Williams tries to go himself to pitch in with the weekly work.
As they raise money for community projects, Williams says they will adopt the approach taken by the United Church Thrift Store, which gives it out as small grants to community groups, often for a particular project.
The bookstore “was always kind of on the horizon,” but its opening was delayed due to Covid. Instead, the group stockpiled books until they could open in May.
“I’m a book guy,” Williams said, adding that his only experience with book retailing has been “buying books from others.” Still, he pitched the idea to his group, and they agreed to it. He also sought advice from experienced retailers.
Besides selling a gamut of books, along with art, the bookstore also has a small multipurpose space where they can do programs. When books are removed from two shelving units, they can be folded down to create a stage. There’s lighting and a projector, and chairs can be moved in.
It's the books though that are the main attraction.
“I asked some bookstore folks in nearby towns when we were getting ready for this and I was surprised when they said the nonfiction-fiction split is 50-50,” he said. “I thought it would be heavily fiction.”
The advice proved to be correct.
“We have people come in that don’t even look at the fiction section and just head straight to the nonfiction, and we have people walk out with 10 nonfiction books,” he said.
In its first summer, the store served an even mix of tourists and locals, and managed to stay in the black – in part because it is staffed by volunteers. Williams said he spends a lot of his time working in the store and doesn’t draw a salary.
The store could use more volunteers, he said, adding that they try to keep shifts to three hours, so the time goes quickly.
“They are also booklovers typically,” he said. “They love to talk about books.”
Indeed, one of the attractions of a bookstore is that it’s a space full of ideas, and as a result there are lively discussions and even “fierce” debates.
“This is what the volunteers especially love,” he said. “They love the book talk, but they also just love meeting people. It’s been fun.”
The store is choosy about the books that they accept. Books should appear newish and be undamaged. They should be of current interest, through the store also carries some older classics.
Most items sell for a standard price of $5, though sometimes beautiful and newer books may sell for more, though still a bargain. There’s also a collection of $2 pocketbooks that are intended for people wanting a quick read and who aren’t fussy about cosmetic appeal.
The store also sells used art and displays and sells work by local artists on consignment. These are the highest-priced items in the store.
Also sold on consignment are some titles by local authors.
“Our goals here are to make the rent, have money left over for the projects, talk to people and connect with people,” said Williams. “Hopefully we’ll recruit some more bodies to help with the projects.”
Story and photos by Richard McGuire
Wayside Select Books & Art
8317B Main Street
Osoyoos, BC V0H 1V0