Westboro Books turns the pages on promoting community

The inside of Westboro books.
Westboro Books is located at 314 Richmond Rd. Photo by Mat Dicsi.

By Mat Dicsi 

Westboro resident Shilhav Mayo has been managing bookstores for the better part of a decade and always dreamed of opening her own store. In October 2023 that vision became a reality. 

She’s the owner of Westboro Books, located at 314 Richmond Rd., a new community hub for lovers of reading and literature. Its storefront next to the Village Quire is recognizable by the logo of a monkey keying away on a typewriter. 

“I have a history with books,” said Mayo. “I have managed bookstores for almost a decade, and to be honest, I always had this dream of owning my own bookstore, and if I didn’t do it now, I probably never will. I really want people to feel like it is a place they can gather—kind of a library but with books for sale.”

When it comes to buying books, Mayo said it’s easy to default to a traditional, major retailer. While perhaps convenient, shopping at Westboro Books comes with a neighborhood experience. Even so, it’s not always easy to compete.   

“The competition is big. You definitely have to find your own niche,” said Mayo. “I had this vision of what I wanted to have in a bookstore of my own which is centered around a community, a place where people can gather and enjoy everything books and literature, that kind of calm, fun environment.”

Mayo’s approach to her store creates less of a shop and more of a stop. Yellow and blue benches sit on every bookshelf, letting people peruse instead of purchasing.

But her community focus goes beyond a hub.

Shilhav sots on a bench and holds a book in her store. A blue wall is behind her and there is a bookshelf to the left.
Westboro Books was founded by Shilhav Mayo, who always dreamed of running her own store. Photo by Mat Dicsi.

Westboro Books hosts numerous events, including book clubs, writers’ workshops, and Local Author Sundays, with even more underway.

“I have a lot more future events in motion,” said Mayo. “One of the workshops I am hoping to host here is a Manual to Life. A series of speakers from different realms of expertise—lawyers, accountants, and dietitians—speak about different topics with the public.”

“We might have a workshop with a bibliotherapist,” she added. “We’ll have our live-drawing classes, and I want to do some one-off events like trivia nights and write-offs, a session where, based on prompts, people write something and others get to vote on a winner, maybe get a prize.”

Other events include play readings for kids, adults, and both. One function previously held at Westboro Books was a series of two workshops around Indigenous art and poetry hosted by Pamela Naymark.

“She’s been so welcoming in terms of anything that people want to do culturally in her space,” said Naymark. “It’s a very clean, very modern feeling. Whether you are visiting with your kids, friends, or family, there is something for everyone, which is what she [Mayo] worked so hard to cultivate in her store.”

It appears readers are putting their ebooks and Kindles away, opting for a physical product instead. Stats from the Canadian book market show printed book sales have climbed since 2019, perhaps in part due to the pandemic. 

According to the stats, 77 percent of all book purchases in 2023 were hard or soft-cover purchases. In the first six months of 2023, digital books comprised a smaller percentage of purchases compared to the same period in 2022—a 23 percent decrease. 

“There’s a move towards the analog. People are buying records, people are buying cassettes, and I think people really like the physicality of books,” said Mayo. “I think people also enjoy going to physical stores after COVID. Maybe people are nostalgic for something simpler. As things are becoming more and more digital, people are still moving back.”

For Mayo, the experience of a physical book is also a sensual one.  

“It is different holding a book physically and smelling the pages. There are these sensory feelings that you only get from reading on pages,” she said. 

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