the state we’re in…bricks, mortar, books

Inspired by the beautiful Bookshelves tumblr blog, spurred on by Pulp Fiction Books’ “Going Out for Business” blog post (I was one of those “Hey guys! How’s business??” customers), heartened by my blogging compatriot Helen Hajnozcky’s Bye-Bye Bookstores post and disappointed by news of recent bookstore closings (in Vancouver and elsewhere) I embarked on a recent tour of places to buy books in my city.
From This Ain’t‘s blog:

While we are open to suggestions, we are hoping that our own unfortunate case might offer others the opportunity to seriously consider the factors which combine to make creating and running a bookstore such a challenge in North America. Predatory pricing of Amazon, inflated rents in urban centers, remaindering of excessive print-runs demanded by big-box stores and corporate publishing have had a devastating effect on smaller entrepreneurs. We are still of the feeling that without big changes the best and most satisfying way to support indies is to explore the stores in your city, browse their selection, trust your own curiosity, and buy gift certificates if nothing suits you.

I started at the Geist Magazine book sale. Not a bookstore per se, of course, but they were selling off books and magazines in preparation for their move to the Woodwards building, so I figured I’d better check it out. Came away with quite a haul, too: Sweet by Dani Couture; Death in Vancouver by Garry Thomas Morse; Joy Is So Exhausting by Susan Holbrook (which I own, but it’s so good I figured I could gift it to somebody); The Reflecting Pool by Malea Acker; declining america by Rob Budde; Troubled by R.M. Vaughan; The Hayflick Limit by Matthew Tierney; Body Breakdowns: Tales of Illness + Recovery, edited by Janis Harper (because I’m obsessed with The Body) and issue sixteen of geez magazine for my sweetie (on the cover: Which Jesus Is Right for You? Choose from 24!).

Geist Executive Director Patty Osborne watched me struggle to pack all the books into my backpack, along with my trusty Nikon, and asked if I shouldn’t have brought a bigger bag with me.

Then it was off to look at Biz Books, a store I’d never entered (‘cuz I’m not part of the film, television or theatre community), but it’s imminent physical demise saddened me nonetheless (they will continue to sell books online.) Such a prime location too, in a heritage building on the corner of Cambie and Cordova in Gastown. What will go in that space now? Condos? Or, like so many storefronts in that part of town will it sit empty, prominent For Rent sign and dust, for years?
After Biz Books I wandered over to the old home of Sophia Books. Sophia was a marvellous compendium of some English but mostly non-English language books, graphic novels, art & design books, and magazines from around the globe. When I was Corporate Whoring for a living I would sometimes wander over from Coal Harbour on my lunch break to thumb through the European fashion mags and daydream about working in publishing. The owners and workers were always friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. And, more recently, my smoking-hot French teacher from CBC worked there on occasion. Le sigh.

The legendary Macleod’s Books was closed when I got there, but they are by all appearances doing fine. (And having a sale! Lower Mainlanders, get yo ass down to Macleod’s! Like the sign says: a book is a perfect gift!) Ditto with Albion Books. Both are used bookstores, which may inure them to the troubles facing the new booksellers, I pray.
Back into Gastown, I stopped by Artspeak, I mean Ratspeak, or rather, Motto Storefront. Till July 22, the artist run centre has been transformed into a “a temporary space for the sale, presentation, and discussion of contemporary art publishing.” It too was closed, but I had taken the opportunity to visit the store earlier in the week. It is packed with deliciously tactile artbooks, chapbooks and zines. Speaking of tactility, they are also selling Butt magazine (possibly NSFW), formerly of the American Apparel tempest in a teapot.
Then I swung back over to the Geist offices where my bike was parked. I met Patty Osborne again while I was kneeled on the sidewalk attempting to repack my MEC backpack, a fine bag which needs to be unpacked and then packed flat in order to cram everything in. She laughed at me, and asked if I wanted to leave my Geist book finds at the office for pickup at a later date? I assured her that I was fine, that biking with heavy things was how I got exercise.
This was a lie. I could move not much further with all that weight on my back. Took the bus up Main Street. Stopped into Pulp Fiction books. Remained impressed by their business philosophy. (Check out their blog, too.)
The next day I made it to Spartacus Books, Vancouver’s volunteer-run anarchist bookstore, which since 1973 has been the place to find womyn’s, queer, first nations, socialist, and/or ecological literature. (Spartacus has also been a location for KSW readings over the years.) I asked the volunteer how business was going. She said things were fine, but they’ve had recent problems with theft, which is mighty unfortunate. Spartacus has a good selection of literary, political and academic journals and magazines, and they have a spunky, angry, politically-minded attitude, which, let’s be frank, we don’t get enough of in literary circles.
Though I have soft spots for many of these bookstores, the thing that I can’t ignore is how spotty most of them are at poetry, with selections that are largely hit and miss.

View the photogallery from my entire book Vancouver tour here.
Not mentioned or photographed, but recommended:
Bibliophile Bookshop (used books. The store cats are named Chaucer and Oscar).
Book Warehouse (several locations, new and overstock books)
Banyen Books & Sound (hippy-dippy)
Blackberry Books (small Granville Island shop)
Bookoff Canada (mostly Japanese books)
Kestrel Books (never been, but they’ve posted a video of their store cat, which I find immediately endearing)
Little Sister’s (Legendary GBLT bookstore)
Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks (for epicureans?)
Canterbury Tales (secondhand)
Criterion Books (secondhand treasure trove)
Oscar’s Art Books (is awesome)
Lucky’s Comics (comics, graphic novels, art books / book objects, McSweeney’s, etc.)
Odin Books (mental health & educational resources)
Nikki Reimer is the author of [sic]. She looks for books in Vancouver.
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