Every time I tell people I want to open a bookstore I get weird looks that can be roughly translated as “have you really thought this through?” Then they ask me if I know about ebooks and how I feel about having to compete with Chapters/Indigo. I tell them about my business plans and assure them that ebooks will not drive the bricks-and mortar bookstore out of business. This has been a scary few weeks for bookstores in Toronto crossing all genre bounds.
Two weeks ago Glad Day Bookstore, which is considered one of the first LGBT bookstores worldwide (and definitely in Canada) announced that it was up for sale. Last week The Book Mark, widely thought of as the oldest independent bookstores in Toronto, announced it will be closing. Last night I found out that Dragon Lady Comics will be closing its store and moving to online sales at the end of the month. Although I’ve only ever been to one of these three bookstores I know of them all by reputation and they are all widely regarded as high-quality bookstores which have great selections and knowledgeable staff.
Each owner has his or her own reasons for closing, but they all seem to boil down to one basic reason: it’s not financially sustainable to run an independent bookstore in Toronto these days. The owner of Glad Day has said that he has needed to put his own savings into the store to keep it afloat. The owner of the Book Mark cited a rent increase as the reason why the store was going to be closing for good, She did not feel that it was due to difficulty in competing with large chain stores and online retailers or ebooks. Dragon Lady comics pins the reasons for closing the store on less foot-traffic, lower sales, and a rent increase.
The closing of these three Toronto mainstays in such quick succession is a worrying trend. They make me question if its possible for an independent store, especially an independent bookstore, can survive in Toronto. Toronto has lost a lot of bookstores over the past few years: This Ain’t the Rosedale Library closed in June 2010; Pages Bookstore closed in 2009. David Mirvish Books decided to go into online-only sales in 2009 and has so far succeeded. Flying Dragon Bookstore announced it was closing in May 2011 mere days after being named Bookseller of the Year by the Canadian Bookseller Association. Even Borders, although this isn’t in Toronto, closed its doors last year, showing that not only small bookstores are vulnerable.
It’s not all doom-and-gloom, though. There are still lots of independent bookstores in Toronto that are thriving. Bakka-Phoenix Bookstore, the best (admittedly also the only) science fiction bookstore in Toronto is still open and seemingly going strong. It’s moved into a new location, it’s fourth since I started shopping there 15 years ago, which is in my opinion it’s nicest. Earlier today I was in there and it was the busiest I’ve ever seen it. The staff were all busy with customers helping them find what they were looking for or offering some excellent advice and book recommendations. A few years ago Toronto Women’s Bookstore was on the verge of closing until in 2010 it was bought by a former staff member there and has since been revitalized. A new bookstore opened in Little Italy during the summer and so far has survived. I haven’t had a chance to visit it yet but from what I’ve heard it’s a great store. The Beguiling, a great comic store I’ve mentioned in the past due to its community involvement, has even opened a second store just around the corner from its main location dedicated solely to graphic novels and comic books for children called Little Island Comics.
This has been a scary few weeks (and years) for independent bookstores, but not all is lost. Some are thriving, some are expanding, and it seems that most are at least managing to stay open. There’s an oft-cited number that 9 out of 10 restaurants close within a year of opening. I’m curious about what these equivalent numbers are for bookstores. Some day soon I think I’m going to take a look at the numbers and report back here.