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Gentrification pushes Spartacus Books out of the Downtown Eastside

Supporters rally around radical bookstore for its move to Findlay Street

by Tyson Leonard

Spartacus books is Vancouver's only bookstore run collectively by volunteers. Photo by Tyson Leonard
Spartacus books is Vancouver's only bookstore run collectively by volunteers. Photo by Tyson Leonard

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As you walk into Spartacus Books it’s clear it’s not an average bookstore. You probably won’t find Oprah’s latest pick, but if you’re searching for Marx, you’re in luck. Racks upon racks of counterculture zines line the wall. In the back, there is a row of computers with free internet access, and out front even a free telephone.

Fiona Balazsi has been a member of the Spartacus Books’ collective for about a year and a half. She said the fact that Spartacus is more than just a bookstore is what attracted her to join.

“I was really excited about it being a social space where there are opportunities for radical political events. I first started coming to film nights, and that’s when I decided to join the collective. I also like books, and just wanted to be part of something where I could meet folks interested in similar things, and get to do collective decision making with other people,” said Balazsi.

The anti-capitalist bookstore is exclusively run by volunteers and all decisions are made by the collective. Spartacus has had its ups and downs during its almost four-decade life, including a fire at its previous location. The latest hurdle comes in the form of gentrification.

The Downtown Eastside (DTES) building Spartacus was operating out of until last Saturday was sold to new owners last year. At first, the new owners tried to evict Spartacus, but amidst  backlash from the bookstore’s supporters, the owners retracted the eviction. This year, Spartacus’ lease was up. They were given no option for renewal, even if they had wanted to pay the increased rent. A coffee shop is said to be opening up in Spartacus’ place.

Spartacus has since found a new building at 3378 Findlay St, just east of Commercial Dr at 18th Ave. They hope to be up and running at the new location a few days prior to June 1.

“As much as we are excited to have found a new space that’s going to work, we are all feeling a really big sense of loss at moving out of this neighbourhood,” said Balazsi.

“In the DTES, we have consistently been a resource in terms of the free computers and the free phone, and I think that’s been a big way that we’ve built a relationship with the community. Just being a political space, and a space that has chosen to reach out to the community in way that is not charity has been really valuable and different from other spaces in the area.”

Balazsi said just because they are moving doesn’t mean the store’s relationship with the DTES will end.

“We are a political bookstore dedicated to political struggle and to this neighbourhood, and it needs to be fought for. So we are going to continue to do that in whatever small ways we can, but I think even just the existence of a radically political space is part of the fight no matter where it is.”

Marc Todoroff was one of the volunteers who showed up to help Spartacus move to its new location last Saturday. He said Spartacus is a central institution in the Vancouver anarchist community and it’s important to help out when he can.

“Volunteerism is the basis of anti-capitalist economics so as an anti-capitalist if I want to put my money where my mouth is, then I have to volunteer, and it’s just a great place so of course I’m helping out.”

Andreé-Anne, another volunteer mover, said she is sad to see Spartacus leave the DTES.

She added that the bookstore is “especially good in this neighbourhood obviously, but it’s going to be important anywhere it goes, because of the way that it’s very much oriented around building a community space.”

When asked about the secret to Spartacus’ success, Balazsi said it’s got a lot to do with the community.

“The biggest reason for our success over the years has been the community support—every time we go though some kind of crisis, we get a huge amount of community support.”

Balazsi said she is excited to have a larger space at the new location. She said a larger space means more possibility for holding community events.

As for Spartacus’ role in its new community, Balazsi said it will stay the same.

“There is poverty all over the city, so in terms of the resources we provide, they will still be used even if they are used less than in the DTES.”

A neighborhood farewell party will be held next Saturday, May 31, at 5 p.m. at the old Spartacus location at 684 E Hastings St. There will be food, speakers and entertainment. A reopening party at the new location is currently being planned for sometime after June 1.

 

Tyson Leonard is a journalism student interested in adversarial journalism, and is currently interning with the Vancouver Media Co-op.

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