News | Montreal used bookstore can’t keep up with rising rent

Amid a flury of downtown closures, used books go online

Escalating rents in the Concordia Ghetto will force used bookstore Ex Libris to shut its doors in December and transfer operations to the web.

Ex Libris, a used bookstore specializing in rare and antiquarian books, will become entirely virtual in January. It has already relocated once since opening in 1982 to its less-visible location on McKay when a condominim developer bought out its previous Sherbrooke storefront.

Robert Campell, the store proprieter, cited the lack of personal interaction between seller and customer in the race to offer rock-bottom prices as a force driving bookstores out of business.

“The Internet is responsible for the Wal-Martization of the book trade,” Campbell said, adding that with people using the Internet as their main source of information, book culture is disappearing,

As an alternative to corporate online marketplaces like abebooks.com or amazon.ca, Montreal’s bookstores are using the Internet to promote local used books among the local community. With sites like usedbookcircle.com launched in 2004 and developed by a Montreal bookseller, has helped Montrealers find specific books locally. Ex Libris has already been online for a number of years.

But unprotected from rent controls, steadily increasing rates are another force raging against small bookstores, and driving out Concordia’s downtown small-businesses as a whole. Within the last month, two other used book stores in the same neighbourhood, Footnotes and Regent, also closed due to insurmounatble rents.

Adrian King-Edwards, owner of The Word, the popular second-hand bookstore on Milton and Aylmer, regretted that another bookstore was being shut out.

“Ex Libris was the best,” King-Edwards said. “The ambitions of the rest [of Montreal booksellers] have really been lowered, because the best has been forced out. It’s just very tragic.”

Kings-Edwards added that second-hand bookstores have been pushed further away from the city centre, and thus further away from universities, due to high rent in downtown areas, a trend observed in other university towns. According to The Globe and Mail, the number of bookstores have declined dramatically on Toronto’s Queen Street and in Boston’s Harvard Yard in recent years, due to rapidly rising rents.

Campbell was discouraged by how infrequently academics and students from Concordia patronized his store.

“Academics are to books as plumbers are to pipe wrenches,” Campbell said. “I’ve never met a plumber who actually loved his tools. Academics buy books because they need them, not because they love them.”

He added that true book lovers don’t exist in numbers high enough to support businesses like his, comparing the shift from the book to the Internet to the shift made in the 15th century from manuscript to printed book.

King-Edwards disagreed with Campbell’s pessimism about the future of book-selling, claiming that The Word stays afloat thanks to regular customers who come often looking for rare books and good deals.

“These are people who, given a choice between groceries and books, will choose books,” King-Edwards said. He added that the used booksellers must cater to the student population, and that it’s possible that Ex Libris’s high-quality, more expensive ware was unaffordable for students.

King-Edwards warned that the worst thing one can do to the used-book industry is to prematurely declare its death and pointed optimistically to the Salon du Libre Ancien, the largest antiquarian book fair in Montreal hosted by the province-wide booksellers association, Confrérie de la Librarie Ancienne du Québec, later this month.


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