People love stories. They are the heartbeat of humanity. In fact, storytelling is foundational to human development and growth. Stories help us tie instructional information to emotion. They help us remember. They help us visualize real events and imagine new worlds.

Books transport us away from daily life and provide sanctuary.


Having always been surrounded by books and loving reading from an early age, I find it striking when some tells me they “don’t like to read.” According to Simona Powell, owner of Companion Books, who also has a lifelong love of reading, there is a book for everybody. You just have to find the right fit. Are you a collector of hockey cards or stamps? She likely has a book for you about these topics. You don’t fancy reading chapter after chapter? She has photography and art books full of fabulous images to fuel your soul.


And our souls need fuelling.


There is an ongoing reading crisis in North America. According to a 2020 article in The Globe and Mail, 25% of Canadian students in 3rd grade do not have reading and writing proficiency and most never “catch up”. And that was before the pandemic.


The statistics are even worse in the USA. It’s so problematic that it has spurred my sister-in-law, Cornelia, to launch her own tutoring company, Literacy Mosaic, that addresses the reading gaps of older students who never received the quality instruction they deserved. She specializes in a speech-to-print approach, a new methodology based on the science of reading.



I’m guessing that in the thousands of unique titles held in the stacks at Companion Books, Simona can find you a book that details this growing interdisciplinary science which incorporates cognition, psychology, education and more. I imagine she, too, believes we must make every effort to encourage the next generation of young readers.


Simona and her husband collect books. Over the years they have built a large home library and always said one day they would open a used bookstore. It just happened a little sooner than anticipated. She said, “We have all these books. We can open a shop and sell them.” But in truth, they have yet to take one book from home to the store for sale. She gets too attached to her books and is not ready to pass them onto others.



Having moved from Burnaby Heights to Port Moody when they had their second child, and where they continue to live today, Simona went to Companion Books to see if they might be interested in buying her slightly water damaged signed First Edition of George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. That’s when fate intervened.  She saw a sign on the shelf at the front entrance of the store that said, “Bookstore for sale.”



This was about six years ago. Companion Books, which she had frequented while living in Burnaby Heights, had been a mainstay of the area for about eleven years before that. The name, Companion Books, comes from fantasy novelist Mercedes Lackey whose “Companions” are horses who can augment the powers of their chosen riders.


Although she does not come from an entrepreneurial background and had no previous business or retail experience, she brought with her a deep-seated love of books.  When she saw that sign, she believed the timing was right. After some back and forth with her husband, she knew she would regret not taking the leap.


Simona has loved books since she was a child. She was always happiest in a library. Like mine, her life has been surrounded by books. When asked about her favourite author, the answer: “Tolkien” passes through her lips before the question is even finished.



Born in Milan, Italy, Simona came to Canada as a baby. The first chapter book she remembers really being impactful she found in an elementary school in Squamish where she grew up. It was called Little Witch by Anna Elizabeth Bennett, first published in 1953. When she was 18, her family moved back to Italy. There she found an English bookstore and saw a version of the whole Lord of the Rings (LotR) trilogy in one huge volume.  She wondered why she hadn’t read it yet despite loving The Hobbit when she was 12. After falling into the world of LotR with its heroic, good against bad adventure, she remembered nearing the end of the book and being so sad that it was almost over. Now she has read it at least 3 times and is gearing up for a 4th. At each stage in her life when it gets a reading, she finds there are now depths to discover and new lessons to glean.


Both Simona and her husband are huge Tolkien fans. They have a fantastic collection of all things Tolkien— including a tattoo of his logo on Simona’s wrist. They started Hobbit Day at the bookstore on September 22, which is Bilbo Baggins birthday. It has become quite the celebration with a contest of some kind — last year they gave away a large foam reproduction of the original cover of the Hobbit — and a 10% discount off all Tolkien, even the specialty books which never go on sale.


For Simona, Companion Books was a turn-key business she bought when the former owner retired. She entered and took over what was existing. They still have a fantastic science-fiction section, a specialty of previous owner, but over the years Simona has expanded, now offering more new books so people have options. She finds some people want a few pocket books they can take to a beach a leave for the next person on vacation while others want a book to keep and treasure for the long haul.



Then there are the collectors, much like Simona herself.


When the pandemic came, plans such as live readings had to be shelved — no-pun intended — but they are looking ahead to a future that includes these kinds of special events. The have a fantastic kids section because Simona loves kids and kids books. She looks forward to the day she can do Christmas readings dressed as Mrs. Clause.



James Mullin, store manager and in-house poet, will be starting to source local authors for readings. Simona already carries books from local authors such as Laurel Gurnsey, a newly published author and regular customer. She is anticipating getting her hands on Laurel’s second book — Book One of the Butterfly Trilogy, just released in January 2023.


Simona’s stock of books includes well over 30,000 unique titles. She does not carry multiple copies of the same book.


Aside from Tolkien, Simona loves historical fiction. She finds that reading a fantastic story and learning something about history is a winning combination: old James Michener novels or Anthony Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See, Cloud Cuckoo Land) for example.



In Children’s books she loves Oliver Jeffers and Todd Parr — both of whom are author /illustrators. Of course Sandra Boynton — my son’s favourite — is so much fun. Simona has increased her selection of puzzles and games, which became especially popular during the pandemic.



Those looking to sell their used books for store credit may set up an appointment to go through them with Simona. And while she takes as many as she can, she is very selective; books must be in excellent, shelf-ready condition — vintage books have to be pristine. But sometimes a book is just old, not valuable. If no one is interested in the title, it doesn’t matter how old the book is or how good the condition. 100% of the store credit can be used towards used books — except for collectibles. Her used books comprise about 95% of the store. If you want to use store credit towards new books, you can get 20% off. They don’t take encyclopedias or text books because there is always a new edition.


She has passed her love of reading onto her daughters. She finds that while digital books are convenient, they are just not the same as being able to pick up a book to flip though it — the smell, the tactile nature of turning pages. She loves to watch children walk through the stacks and pull books out to look at the pictures — it reminders of her of watching her daughter move from one book tot he next after a huge library run.


Even after her lifetime romance with books, Simona is sad she can’t read them all, especially with new ones coming out each day. She has become very selective about what she reads. In her past, she would finish a book if she started it; now if it doesn’t capture her she stops reading and moves onto the next.


She is thrilled to be part of such a great community with such great customers. A community that loves to read almost as much as she does.


Amanda @Fueler

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