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My Careen as a Bookseller (2) :: The Expo Years

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The Expo 86 pass that enraged Van­cou­ver

I owe my involve­ment in the People’s Co-op Book­store to anoth­er his­tor­i­cal fac­tor: Expo 86. For if it wasn’t for Expo 86, there would have been no People’s Co-op Book­store, and no board, for me to join five years lat­er.

A “shib­bo­let” is just an ear of corn, but the Hebrews of the Bib­li­cal times found it was a use­ful too for sort­ing the human wheat from the chaff. In the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, shib­bo­leths were refined for use to fil­ter cryp­to-fas­cists, red-bait­ing cold-war­riors, and weak­lings and vac­il­la­tors from Peo­ple Like Us, who could be count­ed on in The Strug­gle.

Expo 86 was such a shib­bo­leth. If it was clear to you that Expo 86 was mere­ly a play­thing for the rich and a tool for dou­bling down on the work­ing class, that marked you for a good egg and a depend­able pro­gres­sive. If, on the oth­er hand, you allowed that some good might come out of this Class 2 World’s Fair that was going to put Van­cou­ver on the map as a world-class Rouen, well the only thing that sep­a­rat­ed you from the black­shirts of the 1930s was the lack of an open­ly fas­cist par­ty to vote for. The 1980s were an inter­est­ing time in Van­cou­ver. I was able to use the Expo 86 pass repro­duced here to alien­ate just about every­body in town: my fel­low rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies at the bar­ri­cades, most of whom nev­er for­gave me for using it; and my par­ents, from whom it was a gift, and who nev­er for gave me for using it just a sin­gle time.

I could take com­fort from the fact that anoth­er pil­lar of the left broke ranks, and embraced Expo 86: the People’s Co-op Book­store. Because when Moscow called, won­der­ing who was going to run the book con­ces­sion at the Sovi­et Union’s pavil­ion, the pro­gres­sives lead­ing the book­store found a way to rec­on­cile their cri­tique of Expo so that the People’s Co-op could answer the call.

The Sovi­et pavil­ion turned out to be one of the sur­prise hits of Expo 86. No won­der. Where else could you view Tom & Jer­ry car­toons where the cat always wins in the end? The book dis­play too was mas­sive, and thou­sands and thou­sands of books were sold that sum­mer. Strange books, too. Odd sin­gle vol­umes of Molo­tov or Bukharin or Lenin. Trav­el guides to weird cities with bleak, mas­sive squares and boule­vards, dom­i­nat­ed by giant Lenin stat­ues and Marx busts, seem­ing­ly aban­doned but for a cou­ple of bus­es: cities that as a west­ern­er you prob­a­bly wouldn’t be allowed to vis­it any­way.

When Expo end­ed, while the giant fab­ric Swatch was being fold­ed away, and the McDonald’s float­ing barge was being towed out of sight, and the giant hock­ey stick was on anoth­er barge car­ry­ing it up to Courte­nay, the People’s Co-op Book­store count­ed its sur­plus from the 165-day fair: around $125,000. Not bad: enough to under­write the store’s oper­at­ing loss­es for quite a few years, as it turned out.

Even as late as 1991–92, nobody on the board seemed to won­der much about the suc­cess of that Expo 86 book­stand, or to pon­der the mean­ing of those Amer­i­can and Euro­pean tourists car­ry­ing home those odd vol­umes of the works of Sovi­et thinkers. Expo 86 had giv­en the city’s lead­ing (or only, depend­ing on your views) pro­gres­sive book­store in town a new lease on life, and that’s what was impor­tant.

Con­tin­ue read­ing My Careen as a Book­seller (3) :: Moscow Gold

Start from the begin­ning: My Careen as a Book­seller (1) :: Before It All Began