Mac’s Fireweed Books, an institution on Whitehorse’s main drag, might just be the best bookstore north of 60 (it’s the only one that carries Brick, after all). Manager Natalie Sumner let us pick her brain about the store, famous writers coming back from the dead, and what Yukon’s reading.
Brick: Tell us a bit about your lovely store.
Natalie Sumner: Our store is Mac’s Fireweed Books. The store is over 50 years old and is found on Main Street in Whitehorse. Not only do we have the usual book fare, but we have a large northern section, an antiquarian room filled with out-of-print northern titles, calendars, topographic maps, tobacco products, souvenirs, a basement filled with bargain books, and the largest magazine selection I’ve ever seen in a bookstore. The owner has been told many times that people think it is the largest selection of magazines in the world.
Brick: Tell us about your patrons. Who comes to visit? Do you have regulars? Do you enjoy the people watching?
Natalie Sumner: We’re open until 9:00 p.m. every night and until 10:00 p.m. in the summer months, 365 days a year. We do have many regulars who get to know our staff by name. Some come in daily, others a few times a week. In the summer we get a large number of tourists. People watching is one of the perks of being in such a busy location and working in retail. You always get to hear interesting stories.
Brick: What’s your favourite thing in the store?
Natalie Sumner: I don’t know if I could pick one favourite thing, but honestly, I would have to say that I mostly enjoy the environment and the staff. The people you work with and the atmosphere of the place are very important. Our staff get along well with each other and that, along with the customers, creates a great place to work and a great place to shop.
Brick: Are booksellers necessary?
Natalie Sumner: I do think that booksellers are necessary. Even in this day and age of the internet and e-readers, not everyone can afford to get those devices. Nothing quite compares to getting comfortable in your favourite chair or snuggled into bed and cracking open a book by your favourite author. Reading from a screen isn’t the same as opening your newspaper while drinking your morning coffee. There will always be something appealing about the feel of the glossy paper of a magazine in your hands.
Brick: Not to toot our own horn or anything, but—toot toot!—what do you think of Brick?
Natalie Sumner: One of the many jobs I’ve had at Mac’s Fireweed Books was magazine receiving, and I always found Brick to be an interesting one. Its different size and format made it stick out from the other magazines, and we always try to keep it in our Canadian book section as well as with the literary magazines. One of the people who worked here for years submitted work to Brick. I consistently enjoy reading your magazine and keeping a lookout for her pieces in its pages.
Brick: What sells best at your store? What’s the most popular reading material up north these days?
Natalie Sumner: What sells best definitely depends on the time of year. Right now, we’re selling lots of our 2012 calendars by our local photographers. Kids books are flying out the door; cookbooks (especially the Whitewater Cooks series by Shelley Adams), Inheritance by Chris Paolini, and The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon are very popular right now. We’re also lucky because local author Bev Gray’s book, The Boreal Herbal, is absolutely gorgeous, and people often buy one or two for gifts plus one for themselves. The local cookbook, The Boreal Gourmet, by Miche Genest came out last year and is still incredibly popular. A new Yukon photography book, Yukon: A Wilder Place, by Fritz Mueller was just released last month and is a very popular gift idea. I could go on and on.
Brick: Suspend your disbelief for a second and imagine that Jack London or Robert Service wandered into your store. What do you think they’d say about it? What would you say to them?
Natalie Sumner: I would like to think that Jack London or Robert Service would be amazed walking into our store. In the summer, we often have a whole shelf filled with Robert Service books and almost as many by Jack London. If a bus tour comes through, it’s hard to keep their books on the shelf. We’re just down the street from the bank where Robert Service worked. Last summer, a beautiful statue of a desk and ink stand was erected in his honour. I would most likely be tongue-tied and unable to say anything if I met either of them, but you never know. Jim Robb is one of our famous artists and he’s in the store every day. We all enjoy helping him and listening to a story.
Brick: List three books and three magazines that you’d want with you on a desert island.
Natalie Sumner: For books, I would take Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (it’s always been a favourite); When the Lion Feeds by Wilbur Smith because it would keep me busy and entertained for a long time; and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig because I’ve always wanted to read it and I would want something uplifting if I were stuck on a deserted island. For magazines, I’d take North of Ordinary, a local publication to remind me of home, the Backwoodsman for its survival tips, and Brick for when I just need a quick respite from desert island life. I can read a short story or poem and then get back to task, knowing I have more great pieces to read when I need a break.