Susan Thompson had been shopping in Whistler's Armchair Books a couple weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic upended life in the Sea to Sky Corridor.
So, when the Mamquam Elementary Parent Advisory Council (PAC) began to brainstorm how to spend money it had raised for now-cancelled school programs, the bookshop was top of mind.
"I was thinking we needed to do something to uplift the spirits of the kids and support them through their learning," said Thompson, who serves as representative for the District Parent Advisory Council. "I remembered [Armchair owner] Dan [Ellis] and how awesome he is … and I threw the idea out there — just to encourage their love of reading and make sure that continues."
That idea: to offer each student at the school a $40 gift certificate to the shop. With the school and public libraries closed, and Armchair being a local business, it seemed like the perfect solution.
Julie Harrison, the school's PAC co-chair, loved the idea. She posted it to the PAC Facebook page and it quickly garnered positive feedback.
"In all the time I've posted on this page, I've never seen that many positive responses," Harrison said. "We chose to use it this way and the responses were amazing."
In the next couple of weeks, all 353 students will receive a gift card in the mail. They will then be able to order $40 worth of books online, over the phone, or in person (the store remains open with strict distancing rules in place). The books will be delivered for free to their homes.
On top of that, Ellis is offering the same 15 per cent discount to the students that he regularly gives to schools and librarians.
"I think everyone wins that way," he said. "They get a little break on the price and a $40 head start. It's a little way of giving back to the kids and keeping them reading."
He started offering free delivery to Squamish many years ago when the town's bookstore closed and he realized it wouldn't take much extra effort to bring books home with him at the end of the day. Since the pandemic, he's had an uptick in deliveries, but it still hasn't replaced in-store shopping.
"It's a difficult reality," he said. "Normally, our business thrives on tourist traffic and walk-in traffic. Of course that has all gone away because there are no tourists and most locals are hunkering down."
To that end, the gift cards are a huge boon to business during a trying time. "I'm grateful, humbled that they would choose Armchair Books," he said. "It's amazing. I feel the weight of it to some degree. I know there's going to be a surge, and I'm by myself. I might get overwhelmed, but it's a great problem to have."
Meanwhile, the school district has not yet outlined its plan for educating students from a distance, but Harrison said already her son's teacher has assigned the class to start a novel.
"Reading and math— those seem to be the two main ones the teachers are saying to keep up with," she added.
For students facing an influx in screen time with school moving online, physical books seem even more important.
"A good old-fashioned book with dog-eared pages — this whole virus is bringing us back in time to simpler things," Thompson said. "It's a crappy time, but it's amazing to see everybody coming together and being supportive and collaborating and open and flexible."