In my neighborhood, we’ve lost yet another independent bookstore. This one was a bookstore I’d gone to for years: I could walk to it from my home in Westboro. The staff were friendly and passionate about books: their ‘staff picks’ reviews of mysteries were often the difference between my investing twenty bucks in an author I’d end up loving and wasting it.
Diane, a part-owner, says it was the rent that killed them. Books take up room: the space became too expensive to manage. $ 12,000 a month is a lot of books to sell, and a good bookstore has to have staff to guide you in your choices. They’re filing for bankruptcy.
The margins on books aren’t that great anymore, what with Walmart and Amazon discounting them. And even the Superstore in my neighborhood is selling books — at 25% off. I confess, I bought my hard copy of Stieg Larsson’s third in the series when I was picking up groceries.
Is this the death of the independent? Can a small independent bookstore survive e-books, deep discounts, competition from the giant bookstores, not to mention giant grocery chains?
This store (and Prime Crime, the other that closed recently in Ottawa) offered everything people say they want from a retailer: great customer service, recognition (the staff greeted you by name), intimacy, nice premises. It wasn’t enough.
I went over to say on Thursday to say ‘goodbye.’ There were customers streaming in, many with tears in their eyes. Diane’s face showed a mixture of anguish and relief. Almost everyone who walked in that day got a hug. It was probably the best day of business they’d ever had. But it was too little, too late.
What does it take to survive these days? Does a bookstore have to be big? Does it really need to have a coffee-shop and to sell candles and home decor, like Chapters? Is it possible, anymore, to have a small bookstore, to survive on the margins?
At the end of the day, isn’t a bookstore supposed to be about books?
I lost an old friend this week. One I’ve known for twenty years. Goodbye, Shirley Leishman Books. Diane, it’s been a pleasure. I hope I see you around.