For those of us who work and play in the world of publishing, 2009 has been a year full of recession-fuelled endings. I sighed when Queen West’s iconic indie bookstore Pages shut its doors, wept when I lost my longtime job as a magazine editor, and ranted when Canada’s largest newspaper announced plans to outsource much of its labour. But the last straw came a few weeks ago.
After 36 years in business, the not-for-profit Toronto Women’s Bookstore announced that it’s in financial crisis. Sales have not been strong enough to keep the shop afloat, and without support from the community, it will be forced out of business.
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Though upsetting, the news didn’t exactly come as a surprise. The Canadian Press reports that, since 2004, feminist bookstores have closed in Calgary, Saskatoon, Hamilton, London and Sudbury. The TWB says there are only 21 feminist bookstores left worldwide, down from 125 in 1994.
Independent booksellers just can’t compete with the deep discounts offered by chain stores. Niche-market bookshops used to grant access to information you couldn’t find anywhere else, but with the rise of the Internet, everything you’re looking for (sex! politics! feminist theory!) is just a Google search away.
The thing is, a feminist bookstore is about more than just books. It’s about having a safe space to explore, build community and find support. For a teenage girl who’s just realized she’s gay, or a university student sick of reading about old white men, or a sexual assault survivor fighting to take ownership of her body, a feminist bookstore can be a safe haven.
When the TWB’s board of directors was faced with the decision of whether to shut down the store immediately or stay open and fight, it chose to go public with its financial crisis. The store is planning to stay open for as long as it can, but it can’t do it alone. If you care about the TWB, now’s the time to get involved. (For details on the TWB’s fundraising efforts, see www.womensbookstore.com or visit the shop at 73 Harbord St.)
The Toronto Women’s Bookstore has given a lot to our city and it’s time to give something back — before it’s too late.
Melinda Mattos is a Toronto-based writer, editor and co-founder of feminist teen magazine Shameless.