Commentary | The fall of the independent bookstore

Toronto Women's Bookstore may succumb to Indigo's hegemony

Ryerson Free Press (CUP) – For over 30 years, the Toronto Women’s Bookstore has been empowering women and building community through the books it sells, the courses it offers and its strong sense of community. But now, like countless other independent bookstores, the Women’s Bookstore may be forced to close its doors forever.

The bookstore has released a letter to the community explaining that despite all of the events, courses, workshops, community resources and additional services they offer, they receive no other funding than what they make through sales, since they are a store.

“Over the past few years, our sales have not been enough to sustain us and this is why we are coming to you, our community, for help,” the letter says.

Beyond its normal business, the Women’s Bookstore would need a $10 donation per customer to stay open for the next three months, or $30 per customer to stay open for good.

The independent bookstore is still fighting for its life as giants Chapters, Indigo, and Coles monopolize the bookstore corner of the economy. But in the battle of community against convenient consumerism, not only a bookstore will be lost if this business closes its doors, as the Women’s Bookstore offers more than just books. It offers courses and workshops that focus on subjects from the art of practical dreaming to embodied activism, and strives as an organization to promote the importance of feminism and anti-oppression politics.

The Toronto Women’s Bookstore carries books that reflect its feminist, anti-oppression view such as books on feminist and anti-racist theories, transgender rights, health, and books by women of all kinds – Jewish, lesbian, First Nations, marginalized women, and many more. It also offers support for members of the community in many ways, and in turn the community has been able to help it to survive a firebomb in 1984 and keep its doors open thus far.

Now, though, the ever-growing Indigo organization is making it difficult for independent bookstores of any kind to stay open.

The number of feminist bookstores worldwide has shrunk to only 21 from 125 in 1994, according to a December 2009 CBC news story. The article reports that it is not feminism that is declining, though, and the decreasing number of feminist bookstores is due to the battle between chain and independent bookstores.

Bookstore giants like Indigo have their place in modern culture, just as clothing giants like American Eagle and Le Château do – but a balance needs to be maintained. Independent bookstores exist to offset the impersonal nature of the Chapters scene, but with such stores popping up more and more, book lovers seem to be favouring the flashy convenience of the giants to the comfortable, community-friendly independent bookstore.

What does this say about consumers? Are we so willing to succumb to the consumerist nature of the business world without a second thought about the businesses, the communities, the families – the people – who may suffer as a result of that decision? Now on the brink of having to close for good, the Toronto Women’s Bookstore has turned to the community it has been giving to for years for a little bit of giving back.

The letter to the community voices a graceful plea for support:

“In the past, when feminist bookstores were closing down all across North America, the support of the community is what kept [Toronto Women’s Bookstore] alive. You are the reason that we are still here today, and we believe that with your help we can once again work together to save this organization where so many of us as readers, writers, feminists, artists, and activists have found a home.”

The full letter can be found on the TWB website, www.womensbookstore.com/communityletter.html

This article originally appeared in the Canadian University Press.


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