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Gentrification Interrupted: Spartacus Books' miraculous 'renoviction' survival

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"Spartacus Books is being unevicted!"

When most of us watching the systematic cultural devastation of Vancouver over the past few weeks, including those bewildered Vancouverites (re: BC elections, mass renovictions, Vision Vancouver government), saw that splash across Spartacus Books' facebook page we were all thrilled, if not a little dumbfounded.

"Wait, what?!" the collective gasped, "Social outcry actually worked?!"

It seemed unreal. An independent, local, radical bookstore survived a renoviction attempt in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, British Columbia. I spell that out so finitely because all those qualifiers are a sure recipe for a rent hike, renoviction and then subsequent explosion of condos. Yet, here Spartacus Books stands.

On April 29, Spartacus Books was served up an eviction notice by their landlords that came during an unbelievable onslaught of other renovictions in the Vancouver independent business community -- Rhizome Cafe, VIVO Media Arts Centre, John Production Studio, to name a few. Supporters of Spartacus Books had had enough and took to the streets and, more importantly, the internet. Outrage at the city's dismantling of arts institutions and promotion of expensive condo developments poured out; Spartacus Books issued a Statement of Eviction, community members assembled, many blog posts were written, all under the banner of "what the hell Vancouver!"

On May 16, Kerry Grant, the asset manager for AARTI Investments which owns Spartacus Books' building, walked into Spartacus Books to tell them their lease was being reinstated and they were not being evicted. According to Spartacus Books' Facebook page, Grant "specifically mentioned that they weren't expecting such a fuss and were just looking to run a 'nice place'." Grant also asked that Spartacus Books take down their now infamous "Spartacus Books is being renovicted" banner at which the staff sadly joked to each other maybe their neighbours would like to borrow it.

To celebrate their survival and the glimmer of hope it brings to both the Vancouver independent business scene and Canadian independent bookstore scene, we "sat down" with Jeff and company from Spartacus Books to get the low down on what happened, what this means and what is to come.

The facts: your lease was reinstated! So what exactly does that mean -- how long is your lease reinstated for; is everything back to the usual rent; what about your neighbours in the building?

Our notice to vacate was rescinded and our lease has been reinstated. The lease runs through the summer of 2014, so we will most likely be in our current space for the next year or so, paying the same rent as before, unless we make other arrangements, whether that means negotiating a new lease with our current landlord or finding a new space once our lease expires. But, we are staying put for the time being.

Unfortunately our two commercial neighbours, Maurel Hardware and Dan's Home Brewing, have already made arrangements to move, so they will not be staying. As for the social housing units in the building, from what we've heard, there are no immediate plans to make any changes there.

What was your reaction when Kerry Grant walked into Spartacus Books to deliver the news?

My first reaction was, "That's an expensive-looking suit!"

The uneviction definitely came as a surprise. We weren't expecting it at all. It means we aren't scrambling to find a new space and we have some more time to plan what happens when our lease is up, so we're very happy about it.

Your facebook account states "[AARTI Investments] specifically mentioned that they weren't expecting such a fuss and were just looking to run a 'nice place'." What does this mean, especially the "nice place" bit, and what was Spartacus' reaction to that statement?

You'd have to ask AARTI Investments exactly what they meant, but large real estate corporations don't rescind evictions on a whim.

Gentrification and the housing affordability crisis are huge issues in Vancouver right now, and tensions are increasing. People are organizing and taking action in lots of different ways to resist gentrification and displacement, and that puts pressure on landlords and developers. In that climate, our landlord probably doesn't want to draw the attention of anti-gentrification activists, so presumably they decided that it would be easier just to rescind our eviction, rather than being seen as the people who evicted a radical bookstore and community space.

This is huge within the context of success for Spartacus Books, independent Canadian bookstores and even actions against gentrifications in Vancouver, but it is a small step in the right, yet uphill, direction. What are your comments about what this means for the anti-gentrification movement in Vancouver?

I'm not sure we can draw any conclusions about independent bookstores in general, because Spartacus is sort of a special case to begin with and the context of our uneviction is pretty specific to our situation.

It is great news for Spartacus though, but our situation is a very small part of a much larger struggle. It does show that when people organize with one another and take action against gentrification, it makes a difference -- sometimes in unexpected ways.

We definitely benefited from the anti-gentrification activity that has been happening in Vancouver over the past few months. So if there's a lesson here, maybe it's that we need to maintain and expand the climate of resistance that has already been created.

What effect has this had on Spartacus Books and its community?

When we were facing eviction, we got a lot of support from our community, which is awesome! The news about the eviction got around pretty fast, and all kinds of people came out to tell us that they value the space and what we do. We really appreciated that.

Now that we aren't getting evicted anymore, we're definitely breathing easier, and obviously we're glad that we can keep providing access to radical thought and serving as a space for our neighbours and the larger communities that we're part of. We'll be talking to our landlord about the possibility of staying in our current space after our lease expires, which would be great, but it's too early to say what will come of that.

Image courtesy of Spartacus Books' Facebook page.

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