Owner of century-old Calgary book bindery launches fundraiser to relocate studio

Robert Angus conducts a workshop in his previous book binding studio. Photo provided by Quixotic Photography.

Local artisan and publisher Robert Angus is seeking the public’s assistance in keeping his century-old, “Octavia Book Bindery,” open for business. 

After running the bindery out of his West Hills home for the past two years, Angus is raising money to cover the cost of relocating to a more affordable location in downtown Calgary.

“It’s the last of its kind here in Calgary, and it would be a shame to have to shut down a business that has been around since 1926, if only because we are a few dollars short during a pandemic,” said Angus.

Like many other local businesses, Angus has struggled to generate enough income to cover his bills since the rise of COVID-19 last year, leaving little leftover to cover the cost of moving. 

“All of my money is going into keeping the rent paid, and the landlord happy, which leaves us without anything to move with,” said Angus. 

“We’re a month behind rent as it stands, and the landlords are being very patient, but they also have to pay the mortgage.”

Downsizing to survive

The GoFundme campaign was launched on Wednesday with a goal of $4,800. That will cover the cost of moving the bindery to a commercial studio space downtown, as well as moving his home to a small apartment nearby. 

“It’s actually the apartment I lived in years ago, and it’s literally 200 square feet, like the size of a bedroom,” he said.

The lease for Angus’s current home runs out in February, meaning the clock to raise the money in time is ticking. 

“We’re basically begging for funds to be able to put ourselves back into a position where we’re financially feasible again, otherwise come February, we’re basically hooped,” he said.

“It’s a pretty precarious situation.”

The majority of Octavia’s business is made up of restoration work, and thesis and dissertation book binding through the University of Calgary; neither of which are drumming up much business these days. 

“With the University not running at full tilt, and the cutback in repair jobs, I’m getting maybe one or two calls a week, whereas normally I’d get one or two calls a day,” said Angus. 

“It’s just not enough to live on.”

No support for small businesses

While the drop in Octavia’s business due to COVID-19 has been significant, Angus had already been dealing with challenges that started when he combined his home and his business two years ago.

According to Angus, the business license required to operate out of his home only allows him a maximum of three customer visits per week, including business-related deliveries. 

A class-1 home business in Calgary has these restrictions.

“I could be looking at a thousand dollar fine for a thirty dollar ticket,” said Angus.

“I don’t know how anybody could run a business out of their home with those kinds of restrictions,” said Angus.

Angus believes these restrictions show a lack of support for small business owners in Calgary. 

“I’ve been running small businesses out of Calgary since I was a teenager, and I’ve never had them not try and quash everything we’ve ever tried to do,” said Angus.

“Personally, I think that the city of Calgary just hates small business.”

Angus said he’s grateful he can turn to his friends and family when he needs support, but he wishes there were other options available.

“I can’t take out a big business loan, because it’s not money that I’m going to be able to pay back in time, and I don’t qualify for most of the COVID-based benefits,” he said.

“I’m not a big oil company, so they’re not going to help me.”

A new hope

In addition to the financial relief of relocating his home and business, Angus said he’s looking forward to working in a shared space with other artists, and hopefully being able to host student workshops again. 

“It’s lonely as heck out here in the ‘burbs, and with the pandemic, it’s not like anybody is out doing anything. But at least living downtown again means I can go out for a drink,” said Angus.

With the bindery already packed up and ready to be moved, all Angus can do is hope that the community can help step up and help get him the rest of the way.

“It’s a big job. We’ll need a truck, at least three days, 12 people, and a lot of effort.”

Octavia Book Bindery was founded in Calgary, Alberta as Calgary Book Bindery by the Hertzsprung Family in 1926, and renamed Octavia Book Bindery by Robert Angus in 2008.

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