Books have allowed us to record and assess history as well as predict and prepare for the future and their impact on cultural development was a big influence on Kieran Dunn when he was thinking about a name for his bookstore.
“Janus is the Roman god of gateways and doorways,” said Dunn. “He looked forward and he looked backward. We look back to a long tradition of bookselling and in some ways we are very traditional but we also look forward to the future. What technology can we use? What can we do differently in order to move forward and exist in this different time?”
Janus Books just celebrated their sixth anniversary in July but the future of bookstores was, at best, uncertain in 2012 when Dunn first opened its doors in the Shops at Paisley plaza.
“It was probably a great time to open because a lot of bookstores were going out of business,” said Dunn. “I didn’t think books were going anywhere so, I thought I’d put my money where my mouth is and open the store. It’s not exactly a get rich quick scheme but I get to eat. I eat every day and I have all the books I can read. So, all things considered. It’s pretty good.”
Dunn was born in Hamilton and moved to Guelph with his family when he was five years old. He is an only child so he often escaped into books to entertain himself. He developed a fascination with computers while attending high school at John F. Ross CVI and after graduation enrolled in the computer sciences program at Trent University in Peterborough.
“Books are my first love even before computers,” he said. “I used to go down to Macondo Books and when I went to Peterborough they had a number of excellent used bookstores there as well. I spent a lot of time there and I thought it was a really cool thing.”
He grew bored with his university studies after a year and a half and quit to work in the IT industry for a number of different tech companies including Apple.
“One day I was between things and I was considering whether I should go back to school, get a job or open a bookstore,” he said. “It is something I wanted to do since high school.”
The final decision came to him like a passage from a novel.
“I remember the day,” said Dunn. “I was in my mother’s basement. The sun was coming through the window and I decided to open a bookstore. It was a crazy idea but I thought, now is the time. If I don’t do it now, then when?”
It took him two years to collect enough books to fill the shelves and launch the business.
“We opened with 6,000 books, which now doesn’t seem like a lot but at the time it was a significant investment in time and money to find 6,000 good books,” he said.
They have more than doubled their inventory and staff since then and that has allowed them to broaden the scope of books they stock.
“We have around 13,000 books,” said Dunn. “When we opened it was just me and my mom helping out. Now there are four different people working here and each of us has our own separate tastes so we all buy what is interesting to us as well.”
They remain one of only two used bookstores in the city and don’t seem to worry too much about competition from the Internet, Amazon and eBooks.
“We are just humming along,” said Dunn. “We are looking to expand our online presence in various ways. I have heard about this strange kind of book they call a face book. We are going to check that out and see what it is all about because we haven’t done any of that before.”
They have no plans to diversify their product line like many of the big bookstores.
“We don’t sell candles, blankets or cellphone cases,” said Dunn. “We just doubled down on books. If for some reason demand for books disappears and people stop buying them we will go out of business.”
However, he doesn’t foresee that happening.“It’s an age-old process and it has been going on in its current form for more than 500 years,” said Dunn. “It’s not going away anytime soon.”