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Biosfaire - 20 Years in Business!

In April 1992, the late Jacques Viau and I first opened the doors of Biosfaire to the world. We were both passionate about Words and Books - their appearance, their contents both in prose and poetry - their power. For us, it was and still is a medium through which to influence and change the world. Biosfaire bookstore was born out of a revolutionary, loving and pioneering spirit that we both shared.

Jacques Viau had started his career in the world of books in 1979 as manager and later co-owner of a bookshop specialising in alternative health and resources. This bookstore first opened in 1976 in Sherbrooke and moved to Montréal in 1983.

I had gathered extensive experience in administration in a community setting with a special focus on early childhood. Being a mother of 5 children, I had naturally fostered a keen interest in education and alternative «natural» health issues over the preceding 20 years. Wisdom and ecology were also subjects always close to my heart.

In 1989 Jacques and his friend Serge Grenier, a self-taught computer programmer, undertook to develop a bespoke program for Biosfaire to manage all aspects of the bookstore. This innovative system would manage inventory, orders, accounting, invoicing and sales.

After some years of development, it was in 1993 that this unique computerised classification system was implemented. Amongst other things, it would allow customers to easily identify where books are in French or English, new or used (red stickers), in a sale (yellow stickers), new releases (green stickers), «classics» or even out of print.

In 1995 Biosfaire moved premises to its current location at 4571 Rue St Denis right in the cultural heart of Montréal.

Following intense collaboration with Serge Grenier and a graphic designer called Shivaw, Jacques launched Biosfaire's first website in 1998: www.biosfaire.com.

In 1999 we decided to restructure and upgrade our computer systems and processes which took longer than planned but lead to an entirely new website being launched in 2002.

In early 2005 we started taking down customers' email addresses in a little address book in store. The plan was to produce an electronic bulletin or newsletter to promote books to our customers who lived further away.

By the end of 2005, we edited our first newsletter and sent it by email to 1500 customers. In it, relevant new releases were highlighted and Jacques would write an editorial by way of introduction.

Throughout this period, we would participate in multiple events and conferences that related to Biosfaire's core themes. People would always say, «We see you everywhere!» at the time. In 2009 we decided to stop attending external events.

2009 started with grave and unexpected news. Jacques Viau, co-owner of Biosfaire, was diagnosed with acute leukaemia. He stopped working at Biosfaire soon after. In August of that year, he passed away. A celebration of his life was organised at the Lion d'Or in Montréal at the end of August 2009. This beautiful and memorable evening brought together customers, professionals from the world of books, friends and family and really brought the team at Biosfaire closer together and closer to me.

Following Jacques passing away, I undertook to review the finances in order to allow Biosfaire to continue being successful.

In 2010, the mailing list for the newsletter numbered 5000 addresses. This publication is a source of creativity, wisdom and pride for the team and our bookstore. I now write the editorials.

In 2011, the newsletter is still going from strength to strength and published in collaboration with our webmaster, Serge Grenier. It has now been renamed Covivia, a word created by Jacques Viau as the name for his publishing company. This word, derived from a book Jacques Viau greatly appreciated, «Tools for Conviviality» d'Yvan Illich, is a tribute to both their memories.

The newsletter now has 6000 email addresses on its mailing list and over 2000 customers read it regularly and no doubt notice the following developments: Adverts in designated places in the newsletter are included for the first time, Yves Gagnon now writes a regular contribution on gardening, nutrition and ecology, magnificent photographs are sourced and displayed and the first articles in English are published.

In April 2011 Biosfaire restarted selling books at book shows and exterior events and we were thrilled to receive Bernard Montaud and Alexandro Jodorowsky for an autograph session in store. Spring has really brought a special kind of vitality to Biosfaire.

It is also in April 2011 that Biosfaire is entering its 20th year of operation. Customer services in store is now largely covered by Colin Dupont, Amélie Hébert et Émilie Drouet, three excellent young professionals. I now take care of administrative and managerial duties and the Covivia fortnightly newsletter.

Looking around Biosfaire now and thinking of these past 20 years of work, I am astounded at the immensity of it all. Each book on the shelf, each entry on the computer system owe their existence to us who put them there. The whole enterprise only exists because at the start, two people shared a dream and decided to make it a reality: to create a place where people can find books to gain theoretical and practical knowledge to transform our inner and outer environments in order to create a better world. Jacques and I were there day after day through the years, no matter what life threw at us or what other events were taking place in or personal life. Passionate colleagues have since joined the team to help you, the customer, find what you are looking for and suggest new or lesser known titles.

It is my intention to highlight some of these lesser known titles, these key books in forthcoming newsletters - books that have been on our shelves for the last 20 years and are still a relevant source of knowledge, power and wisdom.

In the coming weeks, we will launch a new websites and start working on the facility to sell electronic or ebooks. We plan to be able to offer these by the end of 2012.

During this challenging period where other businesses and competing small bookstores are closing down due to competition from the online giants, we are still going strong and are convinced of the validity and relevance of our services and our place on the market. Diversity and creativity promotes vitality. These are some key qualities of humanity but also of Nature. It is important that multiple bookstores exist because each brings its own specific cultural insight and foster the evolution of books.

And so we will carry on tomorrow morning, letter by letter, book by book, guided by your suggestions, your comments and your purchases to build this oasis of relevant and important information. It is always a pleasure to assist you our customers and it is for and thanks to you that the adventure continues.

Many thanks to Colin, Amélie et Émilie for their collaboration, their expertise and their support. Thanks to you also, dear customers of these past 20 years.

Renée Demers