Pulpfiction is perhaps the most well known and widely beloved independent bookstore in Vancouver. With their flagship store on Main Street, and two other locations on Broadway and Commercial Drive, it’s easy to experience the literary wonderment that is Pulpfiction regardless of what neighborhood you call home. The Main Street location is the largest, sitting at 2422 Main Street where Chris Brayshaw first set up shop in 2000 when the area was populated by Brayshaw’s friends’ art studios. The space now houses ever evolving mountains of books carefully curated by Brayshaw, his partner JP Fulford, and their team of hardworking bookworms.
The store stocks all genres from crime fiction to parenting guides. Alongside their impressive selection of used books, Brayshaw and Fulford stock a perpetually updated selection of new titles. Their focus is on brining in books that can be hard to find, books that are experimental, and books that represent diverse voices. The duo have a finger on the pulse of the contemporary lit scene both in the city and around the world and strive to provide customers with a way in to genres and authors they may not have explored otherwise. They also offer an order-in service, so if there’s something you’re looking for and it’s not in stock, it can be brought in just for you. The team at Pulpfiction is knowledgeable and passionate, and they are also very respectful. Go into the bookstore and you’ll find a calm quiet, an anonymity. You don’t even have to make eye contact if you don’t want to, but the employees are there in a flash if you need guidance and know the store’s somewhat overwhelming collection like the back of their hand. I talked to Brayshaw and Fulford about running the store that is slated to become the city’s book selling icon.
SAD Mag: Why did you decide to open a bookstore and what happened when you made that decision?
Chris Brayshaw: The standard but truthful answer is that I’m not a very good employee. So I’ve basically been fired from or quit every job I’ve ever had, so self-employment is kind of the next option. I was doing a bunch of art criticism at the time and I thought “I’ll open a bookstore: it’s quiet and [I’ll] sit at the desk and write art criticism.” So I found a place in this neighborhood where a bunch of my artist friends had studios and were living cause it was cheap. I thought “This will be acceptable and if it’s not, [if] it doesn’t work out, I can kind of quietly close it down and steal away into the night.” What happened that was a bit of a surprise was that it got pretty busy right away and no art criticism was being written. Then it was more staff and [the] interesting but stressful problems that come with running a business. We started in 2000 so [we’ve been open] about 16 years.
JP Fulford: I came in about five years ago.
CB: JP was probably the first person that instead of just hiring somebody who wanted to work in a bookstore, we looked for somebody who had accounting skills and managing skills, and, more importantly, wasn’t a type A asshole. Sometimes you get people who are really knowledgeable about books who are a little brittle.
JF: There may be a little of that, it’s not something we try to espouse for sure. [We’re] not too cool for school and that attitude we just try to keep to a minimum as much as possible.
SM: What is your vision for Pulpfiction?
CB: We both had experiences where I’d go into a music store or a video store when I was younger and I was really excited about something. I’d bring it up to the counter and I’d be vibrating with excitement cause it was that cool and then I’d just get a ton of shade. We were like “I don’t wanna replicate that experience.” We wanna try to do something different and we try to be low-key: if you need some help we’ll try to help you out. But some people come in and want to have a little space so we don’t want to be in anybody’s face
JF: We just want to have cool stuff to look at! [We want to have] what isn’t around, what is cool to look at, [and] put it as affordable as makes sense to keep the door open and just generate a lot of interest in things. I don’t go soliciting, but when people ask it’s nice to be able to say my favourite book last year was The Odd Woman in the City by Vivian Gornick and sell people dozens.
CB: Often when somebody comes that doesn’t have a bookstore or doesn’t have a good bookstore, there’s stuff here that they’ve been looking for for a long time. I think some people use it as an interstitial place between work and home or just a place where they’re in their own head. Long before I had a store, when I travelled, I went to bookstores and looked for stuff, I went to record stores, and just that experience of looking at stuff, handling stuff [is important to me]. You know when you’re browsing online, an algorithm is showing you a bubble of stuff that it thinks you’re already interested in, but here is a place where somebody else’s taste [can influence your own].
JF: It’s about creating community.
CB: I’ve lived in Vancouver my whole life and I remember going to Seattle, to Portland and seeing these really cool bookstores and coming back and like, there was no equivalent thing. I remember hearing my whole life “Oh, Vancouver won’t support that. If you want to do something cool you have to move away.” But I wanna live here and I want to be part of this community and if Vancouver doesn’t have cool cultural things eventually, everybody who’s interested in those sort of things will leave! I was like “There’s no reason why this city can’t support something that’s cool” and if there is something, I think it becomes harder for people to have a defeatist attitude. I kinda wanna leave something that’s world class [here].
We’ve never payed minimum wage, most of our industry pays minimum wage and we’re just above minimum wage. There’s a living wage [post] on the till because if you’re just creating shitty minimum wage jobs you’re not helping your culture out. If people are barley making enough to pay their rent and are economically stressed all the time, they probably won’t be able to provide good client service cause they’re panicked. By looking after our staff, that’s hopefully gonna filter down into how our staff feel and how they’re able to interact with you. If people have a little bit of extra money after the rent, that’s how people can afford to do cultural things, do art, go to shows.
SM: How do you curate what books you want to sell at the store?
JF: It’s a mix, it’s definitely curated. We’d like to be able to stock everything but stocking everything isn’t an option with the space. We’re really, really sensitive to what people are interested in, we’re both keen on new books. We talk about philosophy as though they were comic books! We want cool stuff, but we also want stuff that we get asked for repeatedly, or that people seem to be looking for but just isn’t around; so we grab that stuff as quickly as we can and make sure it’s here
CB: We were open about five years and an instructor who worked at SFU was in browsing and she was like “Hey, you know, I love your place, I love coming here. I just wanna say something.” She says, “There’s only books by male authors on both sides of this A frame [that sits in the front of the store]” and I bust out the usual like “That’s all the stuff that sells: there’s Charles Bukowski and there’s Hunter Thompson and there’s Philip K Dick.” And she’s like “Yeah, I know. I’m just saying.” And she left and I’m like “I’m a dumb-ass!” If I don’t have some kind of gender parity, it just means I haven’t thought hard enough about what’s cool and what’s being asked for. I had just been robotically like “Oh that stuff totally sells.” What was funny was that I added in a lot of stuff that was of interest, and people were [excited about it] all along.
Pulpfiction Books Recommends
The Odd Woman in the City by Vivian Gornick
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson