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Ep. 113 Annabel Townsend from the Penny University Bookstore

By October 12, 2022August 10th, 2023No Comments

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Episode #125 with Kay Peacy from Slick Business

Episode #124 with Marc Toews from Gateway Web AR

Episode #123 with Sherry Pratt from Sherry Pratt Health Coaching

Episode #122 with Aaron Strauss from Cache Tactical Supply

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Episode #116 with Andrea Lo from the Toronto Dating Hub

Episode #115 with Karey Kapell from Next Level Coaching

Episode #114 with Joel Sopp from Socially Acceptable Marketing

Episode #113 with Annabel Townsend from The Penny University

Episode #112 with Cathlyn Melvin about her Tedx Coaching

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Episode #110 with Quinn Nikulak from Kustom Kitties Canada

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Episode #57 with Michelle Grodecki from  Deaf Crows Collective & YWCA Women of Distinction Nominee

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Episode #55 with Dr. Sharon Leibel, YWCA Women of Distinction Nominee

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Episode #52 with Eric Oelson from Mortise & Tenon Store

Episode #51 with Kim Korven from The Gentle Way Divorce

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Episode #49 with Lisa Brice from Brice Photography

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Episode #45 with Carly Patryluk from House of Paws Pet Boutique

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Episode #43 Part #2 with Nikki Jacquin from Nikki's Portraits of Childhood

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Episode #41 with Richard Arockiasamy and Sanjana Kumta from GreenMache

Episode #40 with Jodi Barrett, CEO of Kettlebell Kickboxing Canada

Episode #39 with Erin Kinder from Kinder Surprises Antiques

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Episode #37 with Jessica McNaughton from memoryKPR

Episode #36 with Wendy Turner-Larsen from Turner Larsen Consulting

Episode #35 with Jill Poulton from Transformational Leadership

Episode #34 with Janci Templeman from Walker Wakefield

Episode #33 with Denise Anderson, Author, Divorce in a Small Town

Episode #32 with Anne Gibbons from Gibbons Travel Consulting

Episode #31 with Charlene SanJenko from PowHERhouse Media

Episode #30 with Dr. Vianne Timmons from the University of Regina

Episode #29 with Margaret Kisikaw-Piyesis, from All Nations Hope Network & YWCA Woman of Distinction

Episode 28 with Dr. Renatta Varma, Vitreo-Retinal Surgeon & YWCA Woman of Distinction

Episode 27 with Jo-Anne Dusel from PATHS & YWCA Woman of Distinction

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Episode 25 with Nigora Yulyakshieva from City of Regina & YWCA Woman of Distinction

Episode 24 with Pam Klein from Phoenix Group & Miriam Johnson from Saskatchewan Roughriders

Episode 23 with Gr. 5 & 6 Students from Argyle School

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Book lover? Looking for your next page turner?

Today’s guest wrote her PhD thesis about ideas of quality in the coffee industry at the University of Sheffield, UK, and then emigrated to Saskatchewan with her young family. When she’s not making coffee, she writes, rides a tricycle and enjoys life on the flat Canadian Prairies.

Annabel Townsend’s first book, It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, came out in 2018 with Pottersfield Press. The follow-up, ‘A Thousand Lives’ is coming soon.

In 2020, (during the pandemic) Annabel opened the Penny University Bookstore in Regina, Saskatchewan.


Barb 0:01
Are you ready to make the door swing, the phone ring and the tail ding. One of the best kept secrets in any community is its network of local businesses, businesses that rely on local customers, foot traffic and phone calls. Those same businesses that support your kids sports teams, donate to fundraising efforts and provide the expertise to get the job done. But no more secrets. From the skinny lessons that will make you wince to the tell all expose days. These everyday people are doing extraordinary things in their business. Welcome to The Secret Life of local. I’m your host, Barb McGrath, Google girl and founder of the Get Found her local program. Today, we’re going behind the scenes with one local business owner who’s on a mission to get people reading once again. Annabelle Townsend is the owner of the penny University. And as a bookstore owner, she has a very interesting story to tell. But I’m gonna let her tell the story. So Annabel, let’s hear a little bit about you. Tell me about yourself and your business.

Annabel 1:15
Hi, everyone. Thank you for that. My name is Annabel Townsend, I now own the penny university bookstore, which is in Cathedral in Regina. And this has been a sort of massive roller coaster of an adventure over the last few years because I was all set to open the bookstore about a week before they declare the pandemic. And so we are in the midst of very interesting times. And I think the circumstances that we all found ourselves in have lent themselves to a lot of people reading a lot more, which I am all about. So we are bumbling along in Cathedral we are bringing people lots of exciting new books and a lot of good coffee as well.

Barb 2:03
So I find that really interesting that you’re seeing people go back to the reading, I have teenagers and it feels like all they want to do is watch Netflix stream and play on their phone and getting them to do something like sitting down with a book like my son, he looks at me like I have a third head. Why would I possibly want to read them?

Annabel 2:23
Yeah, you’ve got to get away from seeing reading as a chore. And I think schools are not necessarily the best at doing that, particularly with sort of reluctant readers. And I’m lucky, maybe I have an extremely unusual 12 year old but they’ve always got a nose in the book and the screen and tablet and video games and everything else as well. But both my kids are very good readers, which is possibly a result of their parenting. They’ve always been surrounded by books. And I think that helps to the point where I had to open a shop to get them out of my house. But there’s a lot of good things which tend to be sort of catching teenagers I mean, books on, on on tick tock is like an amazing phenomenon that I don’t understand at all. And it is getting teenagers to get excited about new books, which is fantastic. As much as I don’t understand it, or I I made like one tick tock wants to show wheeling and it was a disaster. And I don’t know I’m doing however. Exactly right. And but certainly there’s been a few like Netflix series as well, which people are getting really into and then realizing that it’s based on a book. And that will helps as well. So however you discover it, as long as you discover it, right? It’s all good.

Barb 3:54
Yeah. You know, I remember that. My, my mom in particular would always meet encouraged me to read the book first, and then watch the movie. And so I did that quite a bit growing up. And I did the same thing with my kids. And so my son, you know, when he was a little bit younger, so he wasn’t quite into Harry Potter. But you know, a little bit junior to that. So he would read the book and watch the movie. Well, he was always so ripped off by the movie that yeah, there was so much that the movie skipped. Right.

Annabel 4:23
Yes. Well, it’s it’s a difficult thing. Because if you made a book and introduced every single aspect in the book, to a movie, it would be like nine hours long. So you can’t do it. And it’s always the movie directors interpretation of the book. And yours may differ from that. That is the wonderful thing about books. You can see different things in it depending on who you are and when you’re reading it. And I think with Harry Potter, it’s because I mean those came out when I was a young team nature, and it blew up so much, probably before it did here as well. And then if you read them again, as an adult, you see completely different things in it than you did when I was like 14. So it’s, you know, and I’ve watched other movies as well, I enjoyed them as well. But again, it’s a different experience.

Barb 5:21
Yes. And those are the type of books that you can read multiple times. And heck, you can watch the movie multiple times. And you get something new out of it every time. Yeah, they minister you didn’t pick up on or like a little clue to the storyline. And I just find it fascinating how she must have the author must have, like, had that whole thing plan start to finish?

Annabel 5:49
I don’t know. Sure she did. To be honest. Well, I I’ve never written fantasy series. So I don’t know for sure. But I think you probably sort of plan maybe two or three books. And then it just takes on a life of its own. And, and a lot of certainly fantasy. All fiction writers say that the characters run off and do their own things. Once you’ve got an initial idea. It it spirals and it snowballs from there a lot of the time. So I don’t think you have to sit down and plan the seven very long books.

Barb 6:30
In one go, you know, you’re getting that’d be one heck of a planning session.

Annabel 6:33
It was it was

Barb 6:34
So tell me what brought you to this to the place where you know, now you’re a bookstore owner, what’s what’s your background Annabel? Like? How did you build that love for reading?

Annabel 6:45
Oh, all sorts of things. Really. I’ve always loved reading and I write as well. And I joke in that obviously the shop is just a ploy to sell my own book. I am actually my My background is in coffee. I academically as well as business venture i Wow. Yeah, I this is a very, very long story. In the UK, I did my PhD about ideas of quality in the coffee industry. And that took me all over the world. And there is an enormous amount of very dry reading involved in doing a doctorate. And but once I’d done that, and I essentially written a book in my thesis, a very, very dry, boring, long book. I didn’t know what to do myself, because having an obscure doctrine that kind of renders you unemployable most of the time. And I didn’t want to stay in academia. So I started running coffee shops, and I had one over in the UK. And we had a writers club in the in the coffee shop who met regularly and they were loads of fun. We ended up doing NaNoWriMo meetups in there, which is National Novel Writing Month, have you ever come across No way, hey, is coming up in November the premises, you have 30 days in November to write 50,000 words into a novel. And it’s an immense task, and it’s incredibly silly, you end up you have to write an average of 16 170 words a day, if you want to complete 50,000 words. I remember bettering of enough NaNoWriMo is to have that figure in my head now. So anyway, we use the coffee shop as a hub for people to come in and write their books. And none of them were any good. I can safely say this. I don’t think anyone’s gonna get offended by that. But the idea is that you have you end up with a 50,000 word manuscript which you can spend the rest of your life editing. It’s just a practice of getting it down on paper. Yeah. And so anyway, we always had a kind of literature feel to my coffee shop. And then I we moved to Canada, and ended up in Regina, and I started a coffee shop again downtown in 2015, I think. And that was wonderful. It was also very, very difficult because there are a lot of coffee shops in Regina or many here.

Barb 9:26
Yeah, yeah.

Annabel 9:29
And not helped by the fact that I had a baby and middle of it and not literally. We hang on for a couple of years and invade a nice little coffee community. And we also had this big book exchange in the coffee shop. And that again sort of took on a life of its own but we ended up with a lot more donations than people taking them away again, so I didn’t I didn’t want to get into the use book business because it required is considerable curation, which I didn’t have the time for. And so anyway, unfortunately, I closed the coffee shop down because I just couldn’t make it work, where we were and sort of reeling from that. I still wanted to be self employed. And I’m not good at working for other people. Well, at this point, yes. It’s not easy. But eventually, I sort of got myself into a position where I could try this again. And I still wanted to keep my coffee background going. And instead of having a coffee shop with books in it, I now have a bookshop with coffee in it. Excellent.

Barb 10:45
Awesome. It’s on 13th Avenue. Are you I’m trying to put you on the me of right in the middle.

Annabel 10:50
And we are in the shadow of the cathedral. Next to Bodie yoga. In a coffee shop and seed.

Barb 10:59
Yeah, okay. Yeah, no, I know exactly where you are. Awesome. So who would you typically see at your coffee shop throughout the day? I’m sorry, two books during the book.

Annabel 11:08
So um, well, a range of coffee drinkers as well. We were very cathedral focused, I think this is the the place to be and I think independent bookshop is going to survive. And Regina, it needs to be in a very kind of walkable neighborhood, because we get people sort of ambling along with 13th Avenue just come in, because we look interesting. And you’re less likely to get that if we were in a strip mall, or, you know, that kind of thing. So the location was very important to me to get it right. And but yeah, we have all sorts coming in, actually. And curating the books was, it felt sort of very overwhelming, because how do you pick things that people are going to want to read, and a lot of it was blind chance, I mean, we do keep an eye on and all the best sellers lists, and the publishers send me their top picks of the week all the time, and things like that. But a lot of it actually comes from our community, because we order in books for people who ask for them, we can’t possibly stock everything everybody wants all the time. So we have an ordering system, you just email us, and we can generally find you what you want in about two weeks. Again, it’s it’s not gonna be as good as Amazon, but it will come in in time. And when people order things, we then sort of think, Oh, that looks interesting, and order female for the shop. So our stock is constantly evolving, depending on what people asked for. And I think that really helps to kind of tailor it to our community as well.

Barb 12:46
So, you know, I think if you walk into a large chain bookstore right now, I don’t know if they will do a custom order for you anymore.

Annabel 12:57
They can’t and they can’t. I mean, I have been avoiding said chain stores since we opened for obvious reasons. But they obviously have bigger constraints in that they’re dealing with a sort of national or international audience, whereas I am dealing with exactly who’s in front of me at the time. So I guess I have it a bit easier. Yeah.

Barb 13:23
Well, and that’s, you know, that’s what I’m thinking because a lot of people do prefer to shop local. And so once they know that the business exists, they will patronize that business.

Annabel 13:34
So yeah, and the shop local movement was a godsend when we were setting up I think, particularly in the the lockdown, so there was a much stronger trend towards shopping local and sort of supporting local businesses. And long may that continue?

Barb 13:52
Yeah. Oh, exactly. I mean, Keep it keep the money in the local economy. I agree. Yeah. 10%. So what kind of challenges do you find yourself facing in your business then right now.

Annabel 14:03
Speed is a big one, when everybody is used to online ordering. And particularly when we had to do a lot of online stuff when we couldn’t have people coming in the shop to a great capacity. And is like, well, you can order it from us and it will turn ups in 10 days if you’re lucky. Or you can click on Amazon and it arrives immediately. So it was very the the answer to that was having more stuff in the stop shop that people wanted at the time. So it has to be really quick on getting like the best sellers in and when people were excited about a specific thing coming out. We had to have it the day it was released, that kind of thing. So it’s cutting down on the wait time about also, you know, praying that people have some patience with us. And but yeah, that was that was a challenge. And also, I think our advantage over Amazon is the fact that you can walk in and browse and you’re talking to actual humans. We don’t have an algorithm we have my staff members, recommending see. And that that makes the whole experience much more personable and hopefully enjoyable. And but when you’ve got capacity restrictions and masks and social distancing, and contact us delivery that was far harder to sort of get that experience. So, fortunately, I think we’re over the worst of that. And the fact that we managed to keep going and develop it over that, you know, I can’t complain about anything ever again.

Barb 15:32
You know, I’m a bit of a believer that if you were able to survive business wise, the last couple or few years,

Annabel 15:40
I don’t want to jinx anything, either.

Barb 15:46
Like, I’m very cautious when I say that it’s like, actually get worse five. Yes, exactly. Okay. So, you know, let’s, let’s think about, like tips for parents, like how do you, we all hear the stories when our kids are little, you know, read to them. And that’s how you build the lifelong habit. And we read to our kids and I have one like, super reader won’t get her nose or the book to listen to the teacher kind of reader. And then one, as I already said, reading Why would I do that for fun? Yeah. Having said that, though, I have to give him some credit. One of the best things that like just my own personal opinion here for a second, my own opinion that we did was prior to COVID. We had purchased e readers for both of our kids. And when we would travel didn’t matter if we were going to the lake for the weekend. Or to a warm destination, the kids would take their Cobos so we charge them up. We’d load them up from the public library, and they’d be good to go. So honest to goodness when you look at the hours on each of my kids Cobos, like Yeah 1000s So reading something that’s it and it really doesn’t matter.

Annabel 17:01
The format I’m terrified of Cobos and Kindles and things because the only time I get to read properly is lying in the bath, and I’m terrified of dropping it and I stick to paperbacks. Yes. Some of them I’ve Kelly ages. Yeah. And I again, I can’t fault ebooks so much prefer if you bought the paperback because I don’t know how to sell ebooks. Yeah, I’ve had my my kids. It’s been an interesting experience, because my eldest just suddenly learned to read and there was no effort involved whatsoever on my part. Thank you, teachers. I not sure what happened there. But they just clicked and it works. And but my youngest daughter she is she has vision issues. And this is fascinating. And I could talk about vision therapy for months if you want me to, but she, it looks like dyslexia in that she’ll read a line of text and suddenly the end of the words disappear or jump off the page or move around. And it’s so weird. And it’s not actually dyslexia. She got diagnosed with something unpronounceable, but it basically means her eyes are not lining up on the text properly. And it’s a muscle, it’s a muscle thing. So we have to do all these strange exercises involving training her eye muscles, and however, teach because she she’s just 10 Seven, she’s just started grade two. And she should be reading by now. But we were sort of getting through to the end of grade while not going. This is not happening, what is going on. And it’s not that she’s not interested in books, but she gets so frustrated because she can’t do it and trying to get over that frustration so that reading becomes pleasurable, and not something that she’s really struggling with and getting frustrated with it that will switch her off. And I found there’s so many like, particularly for young learner readers and everything aimed at kindergarten, it’s all leveled reading. And I hate that I really hate that. Because it’s like, oh, well, you’re six, you must be on level two. You know, if you’re not on level two, something’s wrong with you, and that kind of thing. And it’s, it doesn’t work if you’ve got struggling readers. And so my attitude was, look, I have a shop full of books, what the hell he wants or hate. And if she’s left her own devices, she will pick the things with pink covers. She’ll pick anything that she recognizes from the TV. And but if she picks a book and she actually wants to read it herself or whatsoever at least look at the pictures herself. And it’s it helps to encourage right she’s got some agency there. She’s not beings told to sit down and read this because I’m telling you to sit down and read this. And that makes all the difference if you’ve still got a choice, and if you’re not ever told, Oh, you can’t have that that’s too grown up for you. And the same with my eldest, I mean, they’re probably reading things that they really shouldn’t be reading at 12 years old, but I’m not going to stop them, because I’m sure I did the same. Yeah.

Barb 20:23
You know what? That’s exactly it. Yeah, go back and look at what we read when we were 1012 and 14, and what they’re reading now, what we were reading from a content perspective was quite a bit worse now. from a content perspective, different reasons for different things quite a bit worse. And so yeah, like it all. And you know, on one hand, yeah, okay. I want to be somewhat cautious how I introduce concepts to my kids. And I do like the bubble wrap that I get to keep them in for these. Yeah, like years. Yeah, same time, they’re gonna go to their school library, they’re gonna pick something out, they’re gonna go to the bookstore with friends, they’re gonna pick something out. You know, I don’t think there’s such a thing as an R rated book that you can’t sell to someone who’s under 18. Right?

Annabel 21:09
Not so and I mean, if they’re not comfortable reading it, then no, we’ll put it down again.

Barb 21:17
Exactly. So I would imagine the look on your face. Annabelle. If someone walked in, and they’re picking up, you know, What’s that movie called? Grey’s whatever, from a few years ago, not Grey’s Anatomy, the book about the man and I’m 50 Shades of Grey. Thank you. There we go. So imagine a young team come in and pick that up, you’d be like, I don’t know that. That’s why you should be on your reading ballot.

Annabel 21:46
To be fair. The cover and the blurb on the back kind of gives that away, I think of 50 shades, but I would discourage them reading 50 Shades of Grey, because it’s terribly written not because

Barb 22:04
I read the series like yeah, terrible. Yep.

Annabel 22:09
Yeah. Yeah, I mean, you know, your own kid, right. And I don’t think mine would pick that up because Ill grown ups. And so yeah, I’m lucky in that they’re still at the stage where that sort of thing is all you careful, you know, hiding under the veggies kind of thing.

Barb 22:35
Sooner or later, since you have some favorite authors that you find that you’re stocking their books on a pretty regular basis.

Annabel 22:41
Some of them I’m lucky in that I have three employees, and they’re all they all read very different things. So between us, we kind of cover most genres. And I tend to read a lot of kind of creative nonfiction, so sort of interesting current affairs, sort of books and a lot of biographies, memoirs, that kind of thing. And, and that is balanced with a lot of very nerdy sci fi and fantasy. That’s my jam. And then my full time employee, Nicole, she’s much more into poetry, and she reads ya as well. So she looks after those sections. Somebody else much prefers horror, and things like that. And I did have someone who read cookbooks for pleasure. He was he was very good cook. So you know, even the things that I don’t read much myself, I have somebody who does know about these things, which really helps. And but yeah, I mean, the ones that sell well in my shop, and there’s a lot of reading local, as well as just as well as sort of reading the best sellers. But we’ve had actually sort of quite a few nonfiction books, which have done surprisingly well in there, and kind of local politics ones. So that’s been interesting. And then we’ve got the Giller Prize shortlist in at the moment, and those are super popular, because everyone’s kind of putting bets on what’s going to win. So yeah.

Barb 24:20
Yeah, very cool. So and I would think that they’ll probably be some really interesting books that come out of COVID. And, you know, respond. It’s a couple days away, I think. But I’m your I’m not sure.

Annabel 24:33
I mean, we’re getting into silly season at the moment. I call it that because everybody publishes books, so that they’re on the shelves in time for Christmas. And everybody who was in hardcover last year ends up in softcover this year, that kind of thing. And so yeah, there’s there’s a lot of new releases coming out and COVID had the effect where everything that was usually published in the spring got pushed back to the fall. And that certainly last Christmas, there was so much that came out at the same time because everything had been delayed and it was all catching up with itself. So I think they’re kind of getting back on to usual patterns this year. But there’s still a lot of backlog and I’m sure there are a lot of pandemic lit coming up. And it is a kind of polarizing thing because one of my favorite books in the last couple of years was station 11 With by Emily St. John Mandel, and it was actually written 10 years ago, but it’s all about a pandemic. And of course, books about pandemics at the moment are either super popular because people want to make their own lives seem so much better in comparison. So you’ve got the truly horrible ones, those are popular, or we want lights, escapist fantasy, which has got nothing to do with COVID Who can escape from it for a while. So playbooks and COVID lit is kind of polarizing at the moment.

Barb 26:02
So Annabel, we are basically at a time but just before we wrap up, can you tell me what would people Google to be able to find you?

Annabel 26:12
You can just Google bookstores in Regina. We are the penny university bookstore, and and we’re on Instagram and Facebook and not on Tik Tok.

Barb 26:28
And understandably so.

Annabel 26:31
You can find us on Instagram or Facebook quite happily or just come into the store.

Barb 26:35
Okay, that sounds fantastic. You were on 13th Avenue here in Regina. So thank you so much for joining me today just to talk about Penny University. I haven’t had an opportunity to be there yet myself. But with Christmas around the corner I will make a point of introducing myself so that’ll be fantastic. If you would like to be a guest on the show, you can email me at or reach out on our Facebook and Instagram pages at above the fold. Ca. I’m your host Barb McGrath, Google girl and founder of the Get found for local program. Remember, you worked hard for your success. Don’t keep it a secret. Bye for now.


Barb McGrath’s been cracking the online code for nearly 20 years. She helps local businesses get to the top of Google with digital marketing training, web design, SEO, online reputation and advertising. Most importantly, she’s earned the trust of Google.Barb runs the only Google-approved agency designed to show you how to turn the online “stuff” into in-store buyers.If you depend on in-person customers, you need Barb’s step-by-step, online marketing plan to generate a steady stream of onsite buyers and make it rain money. She is the host of the Secret Life of Entrepreneurs, a local radio show and iTunes and Google Podcast.