Almost half a century has gone by since Librairie Champlain opened shop in downtown Toronto, selling books and music to francophones and francophiles.

Now, two generations and three relocations later, the city’s lone French bookstore — one of only eight in the province — is shutting down.

“It’s all very sudden,” owner Marcel Arsenault said yesterday. Arsenault, who took over the store from his parents in 1993, plans to shutter it on April 30.

“We looked at the (account) books, we tried to lower our rent, but we can’t even afford to move,” he said in French.

The bookstore, on Queen Street East gets less and less business from school boards and public libraries, which previously accounted for roughly 70 per cent of sales, Arsenault said.

While all independent retailers feel the squeeze of big-box stores, Ontario’s French bookstores — already few and far between — are particularly at risk, due to added competition from Quebec, industry groups say.

Meanwhile, Quebec stores are bolstered by school boards and libraries, which by law must purchase books at retail price from certified local bookstores.

“It’s a terrific system,” and one that Ontario should consider, said Susan Dayus, executive director of the Canadian Booksellers Association.

Arsenault, who dedicated 30 years to the family business, said giving it up will leave a gaping void in his life.

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