I saw Notting Hill a few years ago. I’m sure at this point everyone knows that Hugh Grant’s character is the owner of a travel bookstore. A store that sells only travel books. When I first saw Notting Hill I thought it was a hilarious idea. How could that possibly survive these days? I can see how it may have been a viable business at one point, since the staff would know all of their product really well. These days, it would be nice to have staff that would be that knowledgeable, but only selling product in that narrow a focus sadly seems to be just asking to go out of business. Then I found out that Toronto has a store dedicated only to Cookbooks. And that it is 30 years old. And that it is quite successful (and really cool.
I was shocked. Then I started to think about it and realized that there are plenty of specialized bookstores. Toronto has many. There’s Bakka Phoenix, a store that sells only science fiction and fantasty. It’s a store that boasts many a successful author among its fans, and in some cases former employees. I’ve been shopping there since I was a teenager. There’s the Sleuth of Baker Street, which sells only mystery novels. In the pre-Amazon days I heard from a few people I know who shop there that they could get almost any book you could think of and have it shipped in for in-store pickup from anywhere. Until recently there was the Toronto Women’s Bookstore, a store dedicated to “dedicated to promoting anti-oppression politics and feminist politics.” As I wrote a few months ago, though, it sadly has closed its doors for good. There’s Glad Day Bookshop, which was Canada’s first lesbian and gay bookstore, and as I just discovered from their website, the oldest LGBTQ bookstore in the world. (Random trivia: for a brief period in the late 90s/early 2000s Bakka was directly downstairs from Glad Day) Out in Vancouver there is another science-fiction bookstore called White Dwarf Books which bills itself as “Western Canada’s fantasy and science fiction specialty bookstore.”
I’ve been to Bakka Phoenix and I’ve been to Sleuth of Baker Street. I used to buy some of my textbooks from Toronto Women’s Bookstore. Sadly I haven’t yet had a chance to get out to White Dwarf Books, but I hope to change that in the next few years.
The niche bookstore is most definitely not dead. Going back to the first bookstore I mentioned, the Cookbook Store, it has survived because it occupies its niche so well. It doesn’t just open for the day, sell books, and then close, it holds community events, it acts as a nexus of a community. If you go to their website they have videos they have created on various topics such as interviews with cookbook authors or cooking show hosts. They hold events in the store almost weekly: author book signings, book launches, all sorts of events.
The Cookbook Store has thrived for 30 years and hopefully will continue for as many more years as the owners want it to. I’ve never been there, but I think that I’m going to have to drop in soon. I’ve been thinking about getting into bread making and I bet that they have a lot of books on the topic that could help me out.