Book store closing sign of local decline

A Town Crier Community Column

The news came suddenly, but it wasn’t entirely shocking.

The venerable Book City store in Bloor West Village is closing March 23. The bookstore, with its distinctive yellow-and-black signage, has been a refuge from those ubiquitous big box stores for local newspaper, magazine and book lovers for 20 years. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable. The shop, small and cozy — the perfect place to browse away one’s time on a quiet weekday evening.

But in a neatly typed announcement posted to its front window, the Donker family, owners of the small chain of downtown Book City locations, announced the Bloor Street West location had become uneconomic.

The opening of Chapters down the street at Runnymede Road more than a decade ago was the first blow. Then came online book buying, followed by ebook technology. The Donkers paid tribute to their understanding and cooperative landlord, but at the end of the day the Bloor Street location — the smallest in the chain — just couldn’t make a go of it.

The local book-buying public will still be served by the nearby Chapters. And there’s already talk of opening a cooperative bookstore somewhere in Bloor West Village. But somehow, neither option will fill the gap created by the closure later this month of Book City.

We’ve seen this movie too many times before in Bloor West Village. What was once a delightful smorgasbord of small, independent and family-owned businesses has given way in some measure to the monotony and blandness of a commercial mix more commonly found in suburban shopping malls.

Wireless communication shops? Check! Banks and financial institutes? Check! National brand retailers? Check!

What we’ve lost along the way are those one-of-a-kind shops that sold, for example, Ukrainian gifts and embroidered clothing, and the rich variety of mom-and-pop bakeries and delis.

Not all’s lost, of course. The Bloor West commercial strip still enjoys an enviable variety of small retail shops and services. The local BIA, despite some shortcomings, tries its best to promote our local shopping experience. Apparently there will be a forthcoming campaign to encourage residents of the west end to patronize local businesses. We still have the annual Ukrainian festival that draws tens of thousands of “outsiders.”

And it didn’t hurt that after too many years of neglect, Bloor West Village finally got a modest upgrade to its sidewalks and related infrastructure.

But there remain ominous signs of decline, the Book City closure being just the latest. The past few months have witnessed a spike in store closures and “For Lease” signs popping up. A handful of retail locations have been shuttered for years, decaying in full public view.

There’s no mystery behind these worrisome developments. It’s the free market at work. Supply and demand. If one business can’t cut it, and if retail property owners want to realize a stronger return on their investment, then it really doesn’t matter that small, family-owned and independent businesses fall by the wayside. Another bigger business, often a large national retailer, will gladly step in and add another layer of homogenization to the local retail culture.

For decades, Bloor West Village has been viewed as a destination shopping district. That reputation still exists, but more and more it’s becoming tattered.

Regrettably, the decision to shut down Book City is the most recent example of this trend.

About this article:

By: Greg Hamara
Posted: Mar 6 2012 4:04 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto