Room For Everyone

Spartacus Books in Vancouver has created a space for alternative books and events for over 40 years
Story AJ Birtwistle

Spartacus Books is a radical, volunteer-run, not-for-profit bookstore. They carry books on feminism, labour, Marxism, incarceration, and radical theory. They also have a massive selection of local and non-local zines, local authors’ self-published work, and more.

Alexander Daughtry, a volunteer at Spartacus Books since 1976, says that Spartacus has stayed non-sectarian since they began. They cater to anybody in search of positive social change, though many of their visitors may just be looking for a good book.

Spartacus also offers a free event space. The shelves are on wheels and can be cleared to accommodate up to 30 people. Daughtry says the space is used for weekly movie nights, as well as a monthly accordion night: “It’s an open night for people to come and play accordions together [called] Squeezebox Circle.” He also describes a writer’s group called Writers for Utopia that has “produced three science-fiction collections from their meetings here.” Authors, self-published or not, can hold readings or book signings. The space is free of charge, and anybody can book and use it.

River Brooks, a past volunteer, believes that Spartacus will be gone in a few years, as that is what is happening to many small bookstores. But Spartacus is more than the average bookstore. “This is a resource of people,” Daughtry says.

Spartacus began as a book table run by students at Simon Fraser University in 1972. It was such a success that a year later it became a bookstore located above a pool hall. Within two years, Spartacus moved to 311 West Hastings Street, where the store operated for 30 years. It burned down in 2004, and as they could not afford fire insurance, they lost everything. This included old materials that detailed the history of Spartacus Books.

Despite the apparent hopelessness of their situation, they were able to begin again with support from the community and thousands of donated books. Eventually, the rising cost of rent forced them out of their neighbourhood. Since May 2014 Spartacus Books resides on Findlay Street, down the street from the Croatian Cultural Centre off Commercial Drive. Daughtry says their position under the SkyTrain line keeps their rent down but at the cost of lower visibility.

Spartacus is a great place to volunteer. They are welcoming to all who join their collective and treat those who work with them as equal partners. They are always looking for volunteers and donations in the form of books to sell or funds to help them pay the rent. Spartacus is more than just a bookstore; it is a unique volunteer-run gathering space and a great community-within-the-community. Places like these are a rarity in Vancouverlet’s hope Spartacus Books sticks around for another 30 years.