Back in January, the last remaining Duthie Books closed after 52 years, and then Main Street’s children’s bookshop Once Upon a Huckleberry Bush also went under — just over a year after its opening.
What is required for an independent bookstore or comic shop to not only survive but thrive in Vancouver?
We Vancouverites seem like smart people. We certainly seem to support a wide variety of other local and independent enterprises. There are so many creative and literary people and enterprises that call Vancouver home. We have some really interesting and innovative literary journals plus great events like Word on the Street and the Vancouver International Writers Festival. Simon Fraser University’s Masters in Publishing program and summer workshops draws students from across Canada and around the world.
So why are so many of our independent bookstores closing? Is the market of book buyers shrinking? Has reading become just too 2000-and-late? Are e-books to blame? Is the big box competition (Indigo-Chapters, I’m looking at you…) driving out the little guys? Can we still point fingers at the recession? Are Vancouver’s ever-increasing retail rents making it impossible for indies to stay afloat?
I really wish I had some answers to these questions, because (deep breath) I want to open a bookstore. [Insert a cacophony of voices inside my own head calling me stupid, insane, unrealistic, fiscally irresponsible, inexperienced and generally out of my league.]
Last year, I attended a one-week Booksellers School in New York. (Yes, such a thing actually exists.) And although they leave you with no illusions about just how hard it will be to start and run a bookstore — the phrase tilting at windmills was used more than once — I left with the belief that it is possible, and that the world still needs good independent bookstores.
My job with the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games took up most of my time the past few years, so my bookstore business plan — originally written in 2008 — has been sitting on a shelf as the book world has undergone some pretty significant changes. But now it’s time to dust it off, and take a hard look at whether my silly little dream can become a reality.
And with that, I’m off to New York for a week to attend Book Expo America. I’ll be attending workshops on industry issues such as recent trends in book-buying behaviour and Google Editions, learning about upcoming books and chatting with my heroes: indie booksellers who continue to tilt at windmills. And of course, blogging about it all.
For further reading on the recent rash of bookstore closings, check out these articles and blog posts:
- Vancouver Courier article: Librarians rally to save independent bookstores
- Canadian author/blogger/cool dude Cory Doctorow’s blog: a letter from Sophia Books
- Toronto Star article: Independent bookstores make a comeback
- Not about bookstore closings, but great round-up of authors on what indie bookstores mean to them