No. 9: Because our bookstores do more than sell books
Their success is one of the few happy small-business stories of Covid
In late march, as the weather refused to turn and everyone was stuck inside searching for mental escape, it seemed as though all of Toronto rediscovered the joys of the written word. And with deliveries delayed everywhere, Torontonians turned to those quaint institutions of yesteryear: indie bookstores. Across the city, shopkeepers worked day and night to meet demand. Their relative success—meaning, for most of them, not having to dip into government subsidies despite having no springtime book launches—has been one of the few happy small-business stories of Covid.
The love was reciprocated. Long-standing queer institution Glad Day Bookshop at Church and Wellesley made it their mission to look out for their community on a deeper level. When they realized most of the area’s queer artists and drag queens would be out of work indefinitely, they started a fundraiser, with 15 per cent of proceeds going toward keeping Glad Day’s doors open and the rest going to emergency relief for local performers. The fund hit its $100,000 goal within a week, and has now surpassed $250,000.
Type Books, which has three Toronto locations, started putting together $100 “Mystery Bags” for shoppers—a four- or five-book combination handpicked by staff based on any kind of guidelines provided. “Covid challenged us to think outside the box,” says co-owner Joanne Saul. “We had to find ways to help people have that in-store neighbourhood bookstore experience without coming inside.” Once restrictions were lifted, customers visited in person and were delighted by the experience. “People came in and looked around and said, ‘I don’t know where to start,’ ” says Saul. “There’s this really sweet gratitude for being able to simply be in a neighbourhood bookshop. I’ve always felt that, but never more than now. There’s a beautiful appreciation for that simple experience and feeling of belonging.”
In Leslieville, Queen Books co-founder Alex Snider turned up their social media use, letting staff personalities shine through Instagram stories and creating new themed book lists every week. They’re now planning a number of virtual book launches, and just debuted a multi-genre Zoom book club for adults, focusing on authors living and working in Canada.