Steven Temple Books, the last holdout of Booksellers’ Row in Queen West, Toronto, is shutting down after nearly 40 years in business. Another victim of the combination of higher rents and lower sales: a result of the changing landscape in books and publishing. So sad. It’s a lovely, musty store, on the second floor of an old building on Queen Street West. I popped over there yesterday to take advantage of the sale, and could barely drag myself away. Think piles of tottering books. Rare, out-of-print versions. Smell of old paper, the look of full-color illustrations, the feel of cloth-bound books – red, mauve, green. Signed copies of your old favorites. I picked up a lovely hard-cover copy of The Compass Rose – a 1982 collection of short stories by Ursula K. Le Guin.
The stories are organized into sections on the theme of directions, and this seemed prescient to me, given the directions the world of book reading and publishing has taken. Steven Temple Books is just the latest example of how the Internet is engulfing bookstores. The World’s Biggest Bookstore, a Toronto landmark since 1980, is being sold to a developer. It will close to the public in March. Apparently Indigo can no longer afford the CAD 1.5 million rent of the prime 64,000 square feet space. I’m not surprised. In place of the World’s Biggest Bookstore (not really the world’s biggest, but who cares?) we’ll probably get some huge retail/commercial space. Maybe even a condo. Toronto loves condos. Glass and concrete towers dot the skyline, blotting out the sun. Don’t get me started on those…
The problem, dear reader, is not in the internet but in ourselves. We, the reading public, with our kindles and our Amazon. Who supports the local bookstore any more? When is the last time you actually walked into an indie bookstore and bought an ink-and-paper book? Spending more than you would have online, because it felt right?
Do it. Do it now, before the bookstore down the street disappears, taking with it much more than nostalgia for the past. Do it if, like me, you love the experience of browsing through shelves of books, discovering old and new authors, and talking with the knowledgeable folk who work there.
Yesterday, at Steven Temple Books, I confessed to the gentleman filling in for Steven that I hadn’t really found what I was looking for – a book by Gene Wolf. No one ever finds what they’re looking for, he said.
But I did. I did find it. I went home happy, clutching a first-edition from one of my favorite writers. I’m looking forward to reading it. I only wish I could look forward to going back there.