Quotulatiousness

November 23, 2013

Epitaph for the vanishing used book store

Filed under: Business, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:42

Kathy Shaidle responds to a David Warren post on the demise of one of the last used book stores that used to cluster along Queen Street West in Toronto:

I owe much of what passes for my education to one particular second hand bookstore in Hamilton.

My mother would try not to roll her eyes when I returned from yet another all-afternoon excursion with two or three white plastic shopping bags full of dusty, smelly paperbacks.

The closing of yet another independent Toronto bookstore never fails to prompt meditations such as David’s, although they are rarely as well written.

However, the sad fact is that most of these indie booksellers were well-meaning book lovers but terrible businessmen, with (as David notes in his piece) crusty, eccentric personalities who not-so-secretly didn’t like seeing their precious babies being carted off in your unworthy mitts.

At least 20 years ago now, one iconic bookstore just north of Yonge and Bloor shut its doors, at the start of the Chapters/Indigo invasion.

I think it was Kevin Connolly, but anyway, some such young whippersnapper dared to counter the generalized wailing and gnashing of the city’s self-appointed elites.

He pointed out the truth: that the staff had been petulant; the inventory uneven and pedestrian; the music that classical stuff which urban planners prescribe to keep hoodlums from crossing the threshold.

I used to be a regular customer of several of the used book stores on Queen West, but as they began to move further west — driven by “gentrification” and rising rents (the same thing, really), I stopped trying to find the latest location they’d fled to. There are still a few used book stores I visit, but they’re in places like Port Perry or Port Hope, not downtown Toronto. They may not have the variety that the old shops used to have, but they usually lack the attitude too many old shop owners displayed toward their customers.

And failure gives me a rash, and is possibly contagious. I simply can’t bear to patronize shops of any sort that are so “authentic” and “organic” that the joint is falling apart or they keep having to move because they can’t afford the rent.

For all their snobbish sentimentality about Hemingway’s “clean, well lighted place,” too many indie bookshops are neither.

But Chapters is. So, in its way, is the internet — which is also the new second-hand-bookshop.

I’m as brokenhearted as anyone, sometimes more so, when one of my old haunts goes out of business.

But if any industry deserves to die, it’s traditional book publishing, which has been running on fumes of glamor and nostalgia for a few generations at least.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

4 Comments

  1. “At least 20 years ago now, one iconic bookstore just north of Yonge and Bloor shut its doors, at the start of the Chapters/Indigo invasion.”

    Albert Britnell. I remember it well. I also don’t recall the staff being that surly. But I was younger then…

    Comment by Richard Anderson — November 23, 2013 @ 11:05

  2. Given the timing here, I think I can say I got away with a couple of big bags of free books from that closing. Eased the upcoming gift-giving burden quite significantly.

    Even as someone who owes a lot to really good books (starting with the copy of H2G2 you bought me when I was 12!), when I read the nostalgia quoted above, all I could think was “the internet is for reading cool things now”.

    And I think I like it better that way.

    Comment by Liam — November 24, 2013 @ 01:36

  3. Albert Britnell. I remember it well. I also don’t recall the staff being that surly. But I was younger then…

    Depended on the particular day of the week, I found. Some days, there’d be a clerk on duty who was happy to help, other days you got the overwhelming display of disdain from the moment you arrived at the front door. I was sorry to see the store close, but I didn’t buy as many books there as I did at less-toney establishments.

    Comment by Nicholas — November 24, 2013 @ 10:51

  4. Even as someone who owes a lot to really good books (starting with the copy of H2G2 you bought me when I was 12!), when I read the nostalgia quoted above, all I could think was “the internet is for reading cool things now”.

    I read a lot of stuff on the internet, but for pleasure reading I still far prefer a bound book (hardcover, trade, or mass-market paperback). I probably couldn’t go for a week without internet access (without risking some kind of psychotic episode), but it’s not the immersive environment that a good book can provide.

    Comment by Nicholas — November 24, 2013 @ 10:54

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