Tuesday, October 21, 2014Light Rain Shower 6°C
Arts

Why the World's Biggest Bookstore is better off closed

Posted by Guest Contributor / February 26, 2014

Worlds biggest bookstoreWhen I was nineteen, I landed what I thought was the coolest job ever: bookseller at the World's Biggest Bookstore. Five years later, the job was a nightmare that was the trigger for depression which led me to leave two hours into my last shift, distraught and in tears. I couldn't return to the store for two years. When I heard the store was closing its doors, I breathed a sigh of relief because I'm really very glad the World's Biggest Bookstore is closing.

Yes, it's a beloved Toronto landmark and yes it's known for carrying that one book that none of the other Indigo stores have in stock. Yes, its bright yellow walls and quirky signage make it feel more casual and down-to-earth than the seemingly upscale Indigo stores. Yes, it's a pity that a great bookstore is going to be turned into a line of restaurants. However, for those who have worked at WBB in the last ten years, the store's closing comes as no surprise because a bookstore of that size was bound to fail.

Rumours circulated the entire time I worked there about the future of the store. Rumour always had it that Indigo's CEO, Heather Reisman, wouldn't agree to renew the lease for the store. The former Coles flagship store, the property was owned by the Cole family who make a tidy sum charging rent for the massive downtown location. However, running a bookstore (especially one of that size) is a losing venture in today's world of eBooks and digital magazines and the Cole family was wise to sell off the property.

I'm guessing the trouble really started when eBooks starting becoming a big thing. People were enamoured with the new technology and the ease of carrying around a library of books without the weight, but that meant that brick and mortar stores were becoming obsolete. While the United States saw the closing of Borders bookstores across the country, Canada fared better with many of the large format Chapters and Indigo stores remaining open. Reisman's attempts at diversification of products sold have thus far kept most of the stores in the chain from succumbing to the same fate. However, in the process, she has partially abandoned books.

While we had an impressive selection of books, magazines and DVDs, we couldn't say the same for our gift merchandise. In fact, when I started there we had no gift merchandise, but rather a clearance section where all the unsellable gift items from other Indigo stores came to die. This clearance section was the bane of everyone's existence because it was hell to keep tidy and there would always been customers who were dissatisfied with the heavy discount they were already getting and demand more.

When Reisman brought in more gift items to keep brick and mortar stores going, we started getting first hand merchandise as well as an attempt to prove to everyone that we could survive as a book and gift store. But the truth was, we couldn't.

Corporate was always on our case to sell more rewards cards and up-sell whatever promo item they were featuring, but always seemed to fail to realize that we weren't like the other stores in our chain. Many people didn't know that World's Biggest Bookstore was owned by Indigo and a lot of our regular customers came to us because we were so unlike the other stores in the chain, so they were all totally uninterested in an Indigo rewards card. Despite this, corporate held us up to the same standard as stores like Indigo Eaton Centre or Chapters Festival Hall - high traffic stores which never failed to do well.

As a result, our managers were under duress to improve sales and, as a result, inelegantly pushed cash supervisors to sell more rewards cards. Supervisors then put pressure on cashiers and even floor staff to push the rewards card, but no matter how hard we tried, we just couldn't be as good as the other Indigo stores. And still, we were pushed and pushed and pushed until we'd dread coming to work, especially on the days which were traditionally not busy. I myself took the pressure so personally that it became a burden I carried with me and which eventually led to a breakdown of sorts which resulted in my resignation.

To be honest, I never actually suspected that the company would decide to close the store down, regardless of the trouble we had keeping up. I always, naively, suspected that the company would finally realize that we were unlike their other cookie-cutter stores and would hold us to different, fairer standards. At the same time, having been under their regime for five years, I knew in my heart of hearts that the store would never be given the same love and attention as the other stores. We were the black sheep of the Indigo family, the odd man out. We were an embarrassment and it seemed like the company was going out of its way to make us fail just so they'd have a reason to shut us down.

We had a lease which expires this year and the question on all our lips was whether or not it would be renewed. Now we know the answer to that question and I'm glad it's come to this. We always referred to the World's Biggest Bookstore as Indigo's black sheep: the short, stout redheaded child in a family of tall blondes the store was more of a quirk than anything else. It was almost like Indigo's way of saying, "We can relate to the Everyman, as well!"

It was always my belief that if the bookstore should ever close, the building should be turned back into the bowling alley it used to be before Coles moved in. I was devastated to hear it might be turned into condos and felt only a bit better when it was revealed that a series of high end restaurants would take over the site. Perhaps the only comfort is my knowing that at least the location won't be housing a sad, deteriorating bookstore which was once, but is no longer, glorious.

Writing by Sarah Khan who is a former employee of the World's Biggest Bookstore where she spent five years. She now works as a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter @sarathofkhan. Photo by Roaming the World in the blogTO Flickr pool.

Discussion

79 Comments

Jeff / February 26, 2014 at 07:37 am
user-pic
Sounds to me that you really put the pressure on yourself. Too bad that you couldn't step back and realize it was just a job, I hope you are okay now. Mental health issues can really effect people in a lot of different ways. I don't think your personal story justifies a headline on this site saying that the store is better off closed, I am sure the employees still working there don't agree with you as I imagine many are out of a job in a tight job market
flib / February 26, 2014 at 08:33 am
user-pic
Have to agree with Jeff. Well said.
Joel / February 26, 2014 at 08:43 am
user-pic
I always appreciated the staff at the World's Biggest, super helpful and friendly. And the place was always head and shoulders above the Indigo/Chapters in tough to find stuff. RIP
Ana / February 26, 2014 at 09:13 am
user-pic
You had a mental breakdown of sorts because you had to push products/up-sell at your job at a bookstore? I suppose it was your first job of the sorts, because most people have to do that. It's called real life. When it's not your name on the front of the store you can't let it keep you up at night.
Editor / February 26, 2014 at 09:21 am
user-pic
C'mon, BlogTO, you can proofread better than this. 'Faired' should be 'fared.' 'Unsellable,' not 'unsell-able.' 'Attempts ... have,' not 'has.' And don't get me started on 'eBooks.'
Zzz / February 26, 2014 at 09:28 am
user-pic
While I sympathize with the writer's struggles, the title of this article is clearly sensationalized and misleading. Maybe "Low Level Employee Struggles with Low Level Tasks Causing Business to Fail" is more accurate? Or "Working Retail Blows So Book Store Better off Closed."
Karina / February 26, 2014 at 09:29 am
user-pic
I used to work at the flagship Indigo and I can attest that upper management puts a lot of pressure on all employees to hit targets, sell, up-sell, etc. Especially with their gift section, the upper management get a little to Glengary Glen Ross for a bookstore...
That and there was always the "threat" that Heather Reismen was looming.
TBIT / February 26, 2014 at 09:36 am
user-pic
While I sympathize with the writer's experience, as retail hell is a traumatizing work experience, especially when the pressure from up top trickles down to the grunts, I cannot understand how this personal experience can be used to justify the death of a great bookstore. "I had a bad experience so I hope it dies in a fire, " is better left to a personal blog post and not an "article" on a general (toronto) interest site.

but I get it, Link Bait and I was baited.
cry cry cry / February 26, 2014 at 09:40 am
user-pic
Boo hoo. You were sad from work. Welcome to real life, honeybun.
Lauren / February 26, 2014 at 09:44 am
user-pic
Jeez, she is talking about corporate responsibility to communities not mental health. Did you even read past the first paragraph or are you just that quick to want to share your opinion?
Jenkins / February 26, 2014 at 09:44 am
user-pic
Absolutely ridiculous. While I can understand wanting to bait people into reading the content here on BlogTO (and, let's face it, they need all the help they can get), a sensationalized and borderline insulting piece of work like this is just too far. And that headline - seriously?

Sounds to me like the writer has never worked a real job in her life, and when she worked at TWBB, the "pressure" (heh) was too much for her. Well, boo hoo.
Lauren / February 26, 2014 at 09:47 am
user-pic
As in...it wouldn't have had to close down had the corporate office focused on WBB's specialty markets...like their loyal occult customers and ample variety of tarot decks.
Eric / February 26, 2014 at 09:48 am
user-pic
It sounds to me like management couldn't see the oppourtunities presented to it. Customers were going there because it was unique and not like the other stores, as was mentioned in the article. It wasn't Indigo, it wasn't Chapters...it was the World's Biggest Bookstore, and people knew to go there for books. That's customer loyalty and awareness right there.

The World's Biggest Bookstore has been there since 1980: that's 34 years on the same location. With it's gigantic signage and branding, people knew to go to that location for books. It's just that simple. I can think of a dozen retailers that would die for that kind of awareness, nevermind just booksellers.

If the higher-ups did want reward cards, they should've branded it WBB cards...not Indigo cards. If they wanted to do more gifts and boutique stuff, they should've done more customer profiles to see what kind of gifts those customers wanted. My guess is that real bibliophiles would've wanted backpacks or tote bags or something.

Some readers here think that this is about some employee cracking up under pressure, but you're not really seeing it; this is about a store worker getting upset at the higher-ups for not understanding their customers, for missing oppourtunities at saving a great store, and for ultimately heading down the wrong path. This is a case of mismanagement, and it's resulted in the loss of yet another unique feature of Toronto.
Rupert / February 26, 2014 at 09:50 am
user-pic
The family that started the store and owned the property was the Cole family, not the Coles family.
Liz replying to a comment from Jenkins / February 26, 2014 at 09:52 am
user-pic
I do not work in retail, but since when is it not considered a "real job"? Pressure from a manager or corporate can cause stress no matter what kind of industry you are in. The environment you work in does not determine the validity of your stress. Be a little more considerate please!
Steeplejack / February 26, 2014 at 09:53 am
user-pic
I am sorry to hear that it was hard on your health. I always found WBB staff to be friendly, and helpful. I think it's a huge loss to the city, because WBB often had books you could not find elsewhere, especially in areas having to do with things like international politics, or history, or media. And you didn't have to wait for whatever you ordered to come in the mail like you do when you order online. And I'm of a certain age that finds electronic books just not interesting at all. Goodbye WBB, I loved you dearly and you will be sorely missed.
Bobo / February 26, 2014 at 09:55 am
user-pic
Yes, it's a brave new world of Toronto bookstores thanks to Ms. Reisman's vision. I miss all the friendly little bookshops she strategically forced out of business. Now, there's only one choice in all but a few neighbourhoods. But, if not Indigo, a US chain would have come in and done the same thing.
Jenkins replying to a comment from Liz / February 26, 2014 at 09:57 am
user-pic
Read my comment again. I was referring to her job at TWBB as being her first "real job."

And if you're too stressed from working at a bookstore, clearly, it's indicative of a bigger issue.
Citypainter / February 26, 2014 at 09:58 am
user-pic
Ah, cut the author some slack, retail work sucks. I'm almost 40 and to this day the most stressful job I ever had was as a stockboy at a grocery store in my late teens. You're the front line for venting angry customers but you have no ability to actually do anything to satisfy their demands, since you don't make the rules. Being under pressure with no control is one of the definitions of stress. And that stress only came because the author actually *cared* about her work and doing a good job. This is a trait that is not rewarded at a low-level retail job (hence the hardened attitudes of many in this roles) but will be rewarded in the future at better jobs.

The WBB was always weird, even in the 90s when I was at Ryerson and visited regularly it felt odd and dated. The biggest shock is that it didn't close 10 or 15 years ago. I miss rambling around book stores browsing randomly, but to be honest, I don't have time for that now anyway so 90% of the time I just order books online. I guess I'm part of the problem. Now about those restaurants....
Srsly? / February 26, 2014 at 10:01 am
user-pic
What's next, an article about how concession workers at Toronto's independent cinemas won't miss them because they had to sell those stupid popcorn/drink/candy combos? Give me a break. Retail is the most mobile service industry after waiting tables, she should have transferred to Eaton Centre.
Bobo / February 26, 2014 at 10:01 am
user-pic
INDIGO DISCOUNT TIP

Indigo keeps prices much lower online, not out of the kindness of their hearts, but obviously they have to price match Amazon.
But, if you're not meeting the free shipping minimum, the price is going to come closer to the inflated store price (hey, no competition at the store level, so no discount).

So, how do you get your one book way cheaper? Order it online from indigo and select deliver to a store near you. Voila. Save big bucks.
Bobo replying to a comment from Eric / February 26, 2014 at 10:08 am
user-pic
Great point @Eric, Indigo could have leveraged the WBB brand and unique audience. I don't think they care about a subculture that doesn't fit into the overall strategy. It would have been costly to rejuvenate that big space. Meanwhile, if you look at how they treat the Coles locations, you can see it's not a big priority - they just want total domination or they would have ignored those little neighbourhood stores.
lol / February 26, 2014 at 10:14 am
user-pic
"I could've been published in BlogTO, but all I got was a rant session over a beer with friends!" - everyone who has ever worked in retail after reading this article
iliveattheverve / February 26, 2014 at 10:46 am
user-pic
she could only take the pressure for 5 years minus 2 hours of her last shift. that's a pretty good breaking point, I'd say. I don't personally know her actual financial or personal situation at the time of her STARTING her job at WBB, but at 19, I might think that you're nimble enough to look for another job if you don't like how it's going. or just get out of retail. why someone would put up with a job that would drive them to tears is beyond me.
Symantha / February 26, 2014 at 10:47 am
user-pic
We have just lost the Chapters at Runnymede and Bloor last week. It too has not made money in all the years it was there so when rent up, Ms. Reisman left. She did hold a town hall to hear our concerns and said they are looking for another location in the area. Basically I think she was there to keep the neighbourhood sweet and hope we continue shop online. They were selling more gift items then books in there, that is for sure.
Alex / February 26, 2014 at 10:52 am
user-pic
Mismanagement was part of the problem, but the main issue was that the store was too big for the area it was in. Downtown real-estate prices are just too high to justify a large sprawling store like this.

To the former employee that wrote this please consult a professional, this was not an isolated incident and you'll face pressure like this at any job and at school. You need to learn to handle stress, especially if it affects you this strongly. I think they have lots of courses and books on it though, so good luck.
dan replying to a comment from Jenkins / February 26, 2014 at 10:54 am
user-pic
Oh, screw off Jenkins. If you've never worked in a bookstore then you have absolutely no idea of the stresses involved.

And by the way - it's WBB, not TWBB. Every wbb employee ever can tell you that.
dan replying to a comment from Symantha / February 26, 2014 at 10:56 am
user-pic
LOL, Heather didn't even pretend to care about closing a store that's been open since the 80's. At least you got a token effort in your neighbourhood.
Jenkins replying to a comment from dan / February 26, 2014 at 10:56 am
user-pic
I have worked at a bookstore, actually. I worked at Indigo. So yeah, I know all about the "stresses" involved.
Ryan / February 26, 2014 at 11:00 am
user-pic
I, like some of you, have no idea why this article is posted. Seems Ms. Khan needed an outlet for her personal issues with what is best be described as a universal retail employment experience. That she referenced her depression in the 2nd paragraph is folly. I thought I'd be reading about a bookstore.
Christopher King / February 26, 2014 at 11:14 am
user-pic
Having worked in retail I can personally tell which of the comments belong to the disrespectful bastards that treat retail staff like absolute crap
Sally / February 26, 2014 at 11:18 am
user-pic
I have worked in a bookstore for over 12 years and can attest to the pressure we all feel to meet targets. That's just business. But as many have pointed out, this title is misleading. Shame on you, BlogTO. WBB is better off closed because it held its employees to certain standards? And to suggest that WBB has closed its doors because it did not sell enough iReward cards??? Come on now, the reason it closed was rising rent. Any number of stores in this city, not just book stores, are forced to close their doors weekly for this very same reason. And many of them don't even have loyalty cards. Pushing for customer loyalty is an effort to fight against failing business, not the cause of it.
Sally replying to a comment from Bobo / February 26, 2014 at 11:20 am
user-pic
It's a good tip, Bobo, but what are you going to do when there are no stores to send your books to because you never purchase anything there? I'm guilty of it too, but that's the reality now. So I try to support my local store as often as I get a deal online.
dan replying to a comment from Jenkins / February 26, 2014 at 11:21 am
user-pic
Ah, enough said. I can see why you wouldn't find working at an Indigo store stressful. It makes a difference when you care about your job and the place that you work, though.
wtf / February 26, 2014 at 11:39 am
user-pic
Every job is stressful, and every job has pressures to meet targets. I'm surprised that BlogTO ran this article, to be honest.
Drama / February 26, 2014 at 11:43 am
user-pic
Are you serious? This is just an article about a former employee airing out her personal issues with her job. I get it, working retail really sucks sometimes. The author ought to seek the help of a professional if she is taking her job pressure so personally.

This is really unprofessional. I hope the author will take this as a suggestion for improvement if she continues to be a freelance writer.
uhh / February 26, 2014 at 11:50 am
user-pic
wow, my job is stressful too when the higher ups pressure me to do something. i'm pretty sure everyone who is working can agree
Bruce replying to a comment from wtf / February 26, 2014 at 11:52 am
user-pic
I agree. This is brutal. Every company/store has its issues, some worse than others. No reason to say that the store is just *better off closed*. That's a bit much.
Phil / February 26, 2014 at 11:53 am
user-pic
Along with WBB, we have seen the demise of Borders in the US and the dead horse that is the 333 Yonge Street HMV accelerated as a result of upper management trying to alter these businesses to accommodate a specific one size fits all corporate paradigm. Preserving character/uniqueness wouldn't have made much of a difference in the long run considering the shifts in a market that is on the verge of post-retail (in the physical sense) at this point, but isn't it better to be fondly missed than to have people wait for you to give up the ghost?
Ash replying to a comment from Christopher King / February 26, 2014 at 12:21 pm
user-pic
Oh, so true!!
Mary / February 26, 2014 at 12:24 pm
user-pic
I think that this article has merit. It's true that these part-time sales jobs out a lot of unnecessary pressure on employees, sometimes to the point of bullying, while being paid no more than minimum wage and receiving no benefits. It's hilarious to me, though the reaction some of the commenters is so typical Canadian "Stop complaining and work harder". I think a lot of people crumble under the stress of these types of situations. It's sad and I feel for the author. And maybe these companies need to realize it,
jennsanerd / February 26, 2014 at 12:53 pm
user-pic
Like many who have read this article, I had a similar experience as a youngster.

I worked in an outlet store in Niagara Falls that was expected to do as well as the larger locations in Toronto. But our store was badly located, tucked away in the back of an otherwise bustling shopping centre. My manager was an unpleasant woman who barked at us all day to sell and up-sell, while stealing sales from the same staff to whom she was verbally abusive (I'm being far too kind to her in this comment.) I rejoiced the day I was offered a much better job and got to quit that hellhole.

Great post, Sarah. I hope you've found a less stressful place in the workforce.
tommy / February 26, 2014 at 01:00 pm
user-pic
If anyone from Indigo is reading: your up-sales and stupid card promotions are a wall between your sales people and your customers, and is the biggest reason I avoid your stores.
LL / February 26, 2014 at 01:02 pm
user-pic
Oh my god have none of you had a bad day at work?
Connie replying to a comment from Mary / February 26, 2014 at 01:08 pm
user-pic
Obviously, there are going to be companies that take advantage of their entry-level employees, which I'm sure we can all agree is wrong. I don't think anyone is telling the author to work harder. I think some of the commenters are saying "stop complaining and find another job that won't abuse you to the point of mental breakdown". I believe this is a reasonable ask for someone at a sub-managerial position at a retail store since turn-over tends to be high.

The author's problem goes beyond the store being poorly managed by corporate. She needed to seek professional counsel, or assistance on managing her stress.

Nevertheless, this is one of the worst articles I've read from BlogTO.
levy replying to a comment from LL / February 26, 2014 at 01:13 pm
user-pic
i have bad days at work all the time but i don't think it merits a blog post about it and how my store is better off gone
Lalala / February 26, 2014 at 01:39 pm
user-pic
Having worked at the WBB for a long time, and even alongside the writer of this article, I can say that this one perspective on the closing of the store is just that - one perspective. Furthermore, the writer has not worked there for over two years, so she has not shared in any of the closing processes of the store and is therefor a poor perspective.

The headline of the article is not wrong - there are some good reasons for the store to close. It makes no money. The building is a piece of crap. Books sit on the shelves and never move. It's a dumping ground for old unwanted titles from other stores.

Back in the store's heyday, before the age of online shopping, a store like World's Biggest was incredibly useful and its sales reflected that. Now it is no longer necessary to house a million titles in a single space. The person looking for that hard to find last copy in the universe book is not going to walk into a store looking for it. They'll check online first. And likely Amazon will have it. And that's just the way things are today and that's okay (even if it puts stores like WBB and Sam the Record Man out of business).

This is why it is okay for the store to close. The staff who work there understand this. We've seen our profits halved in the span of a decade. A lot of us are welcoming the change; it's very scary because we're all being laid off, but after seeing our hours reduced and our staff thin out and the store operated on a shoestring, it might be nice to try something else out.

But it is not okay for the store to close just because this one girl had a post-university crisis about what she was going to do with her life and took it out on the store, co-workers and customers. C'mon Sarah, are you still so mad? You have no right to write an article with a headline like that if you're not going to touch on the real issues at the store, and not just your feelings.

For the record, not all the staff feel this way about Indigo as a company. A lot of us understand that with the industry changing, Indigo had to adapt to survive and that's exactly what they did and it probably kept us in business for five years longer than if they'd just stuck to books.
avp replying to a comment from Lalala / February 26, 2014 at 02:00 pm
user-pic
the story writer may not have written the headline...
Simon Tarses replying to a comment from Eric / February 26, 2014 at 02:25 pm
user-pic
THIS.

Eric nailed it but good, as has Miss Khan, on why Chapters/Indigo owning the store and now closing it down like it has is a disaster.

If Chapters/Indigo/Coles didn't want the store or couldn't sell book their way through the WBB brand, they should have sold it to somebody who gives a shit and cares about books. Instead, they've destroyed a great store through and with a bullshit reward card that doesn't even do the job well enough in terms of saving money to be even worth getting by a customer (if you're going to give me a card, make it a MEMBERSHIP card that has a 20% discount like the comic book store I go to, not like this crap where I get 'points' that take time to accumulate [and you can't even buy a magazine to get!]) No wonder people are pissed off with Chapters/Indigo and want it gone, and prefer Book City or some other independent book store.

This has reinforced my decision not to shop at Chapters/Indigo, and to just get books from Amazon (new) or BMV (used.)
Emily / February 26, 2014 at 02:35 pm
user-pic
Full disclosure - I went to high school with the writer, but good lord, is it neccessary to be SO judgemental? A few points:

- For all who made the 'real world' comment, please note that Sarah said she started there when she was 19. For those of you who can do the math, those are university years, and juggling a part-time job with a full-time academic career is exhausting and stressful at the best of times. Having additional pressure put on you for seemingly no good reason isn't exactly the most rewarding feeling in the world when you're likely trying to make a few extra dollars so as to not graduate with a mountain of student debt.

- Working in retail can really, really suck, again even at the best of times. I worked at a clothing store in the Eaton Centre that shall remain nameless for a year while completing post-grad, and while we were treated fairly well there, there were numerous times I went home in tears - because of nasty customers, pressure from the higher-ups and even just from being on my feet for 9 hours at a time. It's exhausting, people yell at you, and the pay sucks. So unless you've done it, you don't get to criticize people who choose to discuss their difficult experiences.

- As some have already mentioned, Sarah isn't complaining about working in retail or having a bad day at work, she's reflecting on a management strategy that tried to put a square peg in a round hole, putting unfair expectations on low-wage staff that quite simply could not be realized. Surely most people know the feeling of despair when nothing you do is or ever will be good enough. This article is not whiny, it is not just about a 'bad experience', it is interesting commentary of the perils of a one size fits all marketing approach from a company that has had to adapt to a rapidly evolving market.

In summary, the attackers on here might consider a) employing some basic human empathy before launching an offensive or b) actually reading the article.

Simon Tarses replying to a comment from Emily / February 26, 2014 at 02:46 pm
user-pic
Haven't you heard or noticed, Emily? Human empathy is in short supply these days, thanks and due mostly to neocon news media and propaganda forcing people to work like slaves and making them fell like shit when they fail. Most of the commenters here have been brainwashed/bamboozled by said neocon media (or are neocon wannabes themselves); that's why they've responded to Miss Khan the way they did. When you get the message to just 'buck up and take it on the chin', that's how you'll respond to anybody going through difficulties. And sadly, that's what people do, especially at blogTO.

We need unions for most service workers, and we also need a raise in the minimum wage to a MAXIMUM wage (about $20.25); that way, things will be and get better.
Boop replying to a comment from Simon Tarses / February 26, 2014 at 02:55 pm
user-pic
Can we please stop this romanticizing of books? They are not exempt from the regular business market. Its not like bookstores can just exists on magical fairy book money! Its not like these stores don't have rent to pay! And dipholes who say that they'll just "just get books from amazon" only accomplish not contributing to the economy in their own backyard rather than make a point. Indigo is a business like any other, and needs to make money to keep their stores open and when a store doesn't make money, it can't stay open. That's it.
bjws replying to a comment from Symantha / February 26, 2014 at 02:57 pm
user-pic
My understanding is that because that is a heritage building the rent is high and opportunities to change the store were pretty limited. There's probably more to the story than dollars and cents.
Sally replying to a comment from Simon Tarses / February 26, 2014 at 03:53 pm
user-pic
Simon, if you cared so much why would you choose Amazon?! And not somewhere like Type books on Queen West or any of the privately-run used book stores throughout the city rather than BMV? These small, unique stores will also soon cease to exist. These are the stores who employ people who care and are part of their community, as are many individual Indigo stores across the country. Amazon is as much to blame for the closing down of bookstores across our city as Indigo. I personally don't think either are to blame. It's on all of us to shop responsibly, to demand better rights for our workers, retail or otherwise, and to choose where to put our hard-earned money. You may as well shop Costco if you want a membership card with a big discount attached. But something tells me they won't carry the types of books you'd want to read.
Alex replying to a comment from Emily / February 26, 2014 at 03:56 pm
user-pic
She wrote a blog post on a public site with open commenting, so yes we expect that the author wants to hear our opinions. The vast majority of people would just vent to friends, not write a blog post.

Most people are also not saying you can't complain, we're saying get professional help if working a retail job gave you depression! I've worked retail and it sucked most days, but it didn't give me depression and I never got stressed out. Any pressure from my boss to sell store credit cards I ignored, because I knew my actual job was helping customers and I'd rather they keep coming back to the store than sign up one in a hundred to a store credit card they'd probably never use. You're going to face pressure at any job and she needs help to learn how to deal with it.
A replying to a comment from Zzz / February 26, 2014 at 04:23 pm
user-pic
Exactly my thinking!
yeah replying to a comment from Alex / February 26, 2014 at 05:29 pm
user-pic
Exactly, the author said it was the trigger for her depression. I've worked retail for years, and on occasion have stormed home at the end of the shift ready to punch something. I can't say work has ever "triggered depression".

At most, it would be a bad day and I'd complain about it over a beer, but at the end of the day it was just a job. *shrugs*

While she brought up some points that are valid for the failure of WBB, her writing leads the reader to believe the major point was that all the mismanagement caused her severe stress - so she's glad to say "good riddance"

"I myself took the pressure so personally that it became a burden I carried with me and which eventually led to a breakdown of sorts which resulted in my resignation."

Yeah, that's a sign of someone taking stress too far and should therefore have sought help.
Adam / February 26, 2014 at 05:52 pm
user-pic
I have empathy for the writer. Retail sucks. But it sounds like this article should have been titled "Why Working in Retail is the Worst Ever."
Chris / February 26, 2014 at 07:21 pm
user-pic
The title of the article, the author's retail working experience, and the reality of such a large bookstore location in this day, have little to do with each other ...except of being related to The Worlds Biggest Bookstore.

Perhaps the article with help the writer heal an old wound.
R / February 26, 2014 at 08:42 pm
user-pic
This is my first anonymous comment on a blog post, anonymous out of necessity owing to my employment at Indigo.

The strategy of promoting gift product sales actually does work. In recent years, Indigo has only been as financially stable as it has been (relatively speaking) because rising sales of gift products largely compensate for falling sales of books. It wasn't a choice of being a book store and being a book-and-gift store; rather, it was a choice of being a book-and-gift store and not being a store at all.

Reisman's strategy was hardly an abandonment of books. An abandonment of books would have involved closing down the chain altogether rather than trying to keep as many stores as possible active and selling books.

What alternatives would there have been? If the WBB had been an independent, would it have lasted as long? I have my doubts.
LucasP / February 26, 2014 at 09:12 pm
user-pic
Boohoo sarah, your boss put pressure on u to sell? Its called business, and if you were selling you wouldnt be getting shit from your boss. Sure sounds like you were just failing and to all you bookstore workers who who are defending this horseshit try going to work with a grown up and then talk about "stress" ya bunch of babies. Second place is a box of steak knives and third place is your fired. Coffee is for closers. Ps red headed step child? I hope your next boss i a red head and fires you for being a chump
Jo replying to a comment from LucasP / February 26, 2014 at 10:23 pm
user-pic
Easy there tiger....
Liz replying to a comment from Jenkins / February 26, 2014 at 10:30 pm
user-pic
Nowhere in your comment do you clarify that you're speaking to a "first" real job. And having never worked in a bookstore myself I wouldn't automatically assume it isn't stressful because, well, I decided it wasn't, much like yourself. I get that you worked at an Indigo, but this article speaks largely to the neglect WBB underwent. Again, just take a step back and stop assuming that your experience is the universal experience.
Ms. P / February 26, 2014 at 11:56 pm
user-pic
I've worked in a few different retail and non-retail places, including one bookstore that I loved working at, and one bookstore that was so stressful my hair started falling out (and, er, not because of male pattern baldness - I'm female.) None of the jobs outside of retail, the ones some of these commenters think are more "real", were even half as stressful as my second bookstore experience.

So I have some sympathy with the author, and many of these comments bother me. Just because someone wound up depressed because of their job, doesn't mean they're a weak whiner who can't handle the real world. Or that their issues are solely personal ones, completely unrelated to their job. Depression is complex, with many causal factors, but a difficult workplace can be the one thing that pushes it from being manageable to being completely unliveable.

Before that second experience, I might have been more like some of these other commenters. I would have said that all jobs suck sometimes, and you just need to be able to deal with it. Well, that just isn't true. There's an acceptable level of suckage, where you learn that life isn't all rainbow kittens and happiness, and that's fine. But then there's misery. And I don't think anyone deserves that.
Justin / February 27, 2014 at 02:52 am
user-pic
I must agree with everyone else here. I don't usually chime in on BlogTO articles, but I just had to on this one. Please guys, stop letting people post tripe like this. I totally understand where the writer is coming from, because I personally worked for a similarly doomed store for four years. I eventually had to quit, because of the unnecessary amounts of stress put on me for minimum wage. I was going insane just like the writer of this article. I went out and managed to secure a new job, and this year, my previous store should be closing it's doors, due to similar reasons. I whine to my friends about it, because in the end it is truly bullshit that lower level employees have to put up with as much bullshit as we do, but you don't find me writing a BlogTO article about it.
Disappointed / February 27, 2014 at 03:12 am
user-pic
One of the first things I was told when I started working at WBB was "Heather hates this store. It's not up to her standards". This store has always been held to unrealistic standards yet no one has ever made the effort to build this store up to its full potential.

True, there are managment issues and there are some unreasonable sale expectations but come on Sarah. The guys at head office might not get it but the staff and managers do, we're the World's Biggest Bookstore. No matter what we do we will never be Indigo Eaton center. Most times the management's demands are followed by a "we'll do what we can" or "you know we're not the Eaton center, right?" and life would go on. No one was being flogged with a whip behind the cash.

Everyone who has worked retail has had a breakdown of some sorts. I've had times when a week off with no pay is with more then minimum wage full of bullshit. BUT! For that I have customers to blame not loyalty percentages. And by that I am referring to those self-entitled bastards who don't give a shit that it's a real human being they're talking to. The cheap bastards who will belittle and berate a cashier just to save a penny.

If you want to talk about why WBB is better off closed talk people who will spent seven hours sitting on the steps reading and damaging our products only to walk out buying nothing. Talk about the customers who buy books at the store only to walk over to BMV next door and find it for cheaper, then come back and return what they bought. Talk about the people who will browse our shelves, make lists of books they want then go home and order online. Or how about the people who settle them selves down in a quiet spot with a stack of cook book, crack open their note books and start copying out the recipes. Or how about the "customers" who use our store as a library, constantly buying, reading and returning books. The World's Biggest Bookstore is better off closed because people want everything but won't pay for anything. It takes a village to raise a child and it take a community to close a bookstore.

As for showing some basic human empathy towards the author. She deserves very little of that when the title of the article alone lacks it. So... WBB staff are better off unemployed? The same staff the author worked with for five years. I've worked at WBB for five years now and it's these great people and all the support I get from them that makes it all worth something.
Boop replying to a comment from Disappointed / February 27, 2014 at 11:23 am
user-pic
Just to clarify, this is not all of our customers. Just a number of regulars who tend to spoil the entire experience, right? It's true, people sit and man handle eight different manga for hours so they don't have to actually buy them, and others who see a sale demand a further sale - the kind of demand that never happens in other retail environments. When was the last time your bartered and haggled with a cashier at H&M, Canadian Tire, or even Indigo? Well it happens at WBB on a daily basis. And it's trying on the staff to have to enforce policy that shouldn't have to be so firmly defended.

On the other side, however, are the lovely, wonderful and strange customers we've all gotten to know over the years. There are families that come in every weekend, and we've watched those kids grow up. I know customers by their names, and they know mine. It's a nice community too and I'll miss that a lot.
just a nametag replying to a comment from Simon Tarses / February 27, 2014 at 01:12 pm
user-pic
Just to comment on the "union" suggestion: I worked at WBB for five years, and throughout that time, my fellow booksellers and I WERE part of a union. We were part of CAW and regularly had meetings and salary negotiations, etc. However, this only made us "the enemy" in the eyes of Chapters/Indigo (us and another Chapters store in Quebec that was also unionized) and we were never paid a fair wage, despite our union's efforts. We even came close to striking once, not that anyone seemed to care. :P After all, who cares if a bookstore is closed for a week? Just go to the Indigo down the street.

The five years I worked at WBB were a mixed bag of awesome and not-so-awesome, but it was also a time when the Chapters merger had just occurred and WBB was still somewhat "independent" and unique. Over the course of 4 years, our management staff and style changed drastically and we became much more "in tune" with Indigo's style.

I was a cash supervisor for four years. Yes, we had to sell loyalty cards. (For Eric above) We began with WBB cards - our own logo, our own brand, but the same iRewards program that Indigo and Chapters hawked. After two years, our logo was replaced with all three stores' logos. After a year, it was replaced with the Indigo logo and purple-ness. It didn't make a difference what was on the card, in my opinion, the fact was, we were given goals to meet and were "reprimanded" by head office if we didn't meet those goals. As a cash supervisor, my job was to make sure those goals were met. I turned it into a "game" and my cash staff understood that the pressure of selling loyalty cards was not something that came from myself or from our immediate management. They all understood that it came from head office - Indigo head office. We worked out in-store incentives for our cashiers and tried to make it more of a challenge than drudgery. My cash team was great at keeping their own spirits up and supporting each other. It's clear that by the time Miss Khan worked there, this was no longer the case.

My last year there, due to unsuccessful union negotiations and yet another change in management, I asked to be "demoted" and left the cash desk to go work in receiving. I no longer had to interact with customers who complained all the time about how the store had changed (for the worse) and I no longer had to worry about store sales or loyalty card sales. I spent my time amidst boxes of new books and bubblewrap. I did NOT appreciate the way that Indigo "handled" our store, but I also realized that change is inevitable, and my complaining didn't make it better. It was RETAIL for pete's sake. I missed the managers and staff that were in place when I was first hired, but like the book industry itself, we adapted. And when I finally felt like I didn't like working there anymore...I quit. It felt like a big huge decision, but looking back, it wasn't. The store had evolved from a quirky, independent splash of orange and yellow with "expert" booksellers and unique management styles to a more "corporate" cog in the machine that was Indigo with strict sales goals and the introduction of promoted items that WEREN'T books. Whatever pressure an employee felt, I dare to say, was of their own making. Everyone became replaceable, the store would not fail if someone quit, the world would keep turning. Once we digested that cliche, it became much easier to work at the "good ol' WBB" regardless of personal anxieties. Yes, I grumbled, yes, I bemoaned the loss of our good times and family-like atmosphere, but there were employees there (and still are there!) who had endured more change than I had, and they still came to work with a smile on their face.

We WERE referred to as Indigo's black sheep...but only by US! The WBB staff. Perhaps jokingly with an Indigo bookseller or two when we went into other stores and purchased books with our employee card, but to be fair, Indigo never referred to us as anything but "another Chapters/Indigo store".

As relevant and important as this article is to its author, I feel it also misrepresents the WBB because of her personal issues. The store has a rich history and a legion of fans, fair-weather or not, a complement of ex- and current employees who still feel fondly about it, and as with any workplace that was once successful, it does not DESERVE to "die"...maybe fade away with some grace and some great memories. I'll miss the store, but I already let it fade away when I left it.

(Sorry I started rambling and went on tangents I didn't intend to venture out on...)
UnotOO / February 27, 2014 at 01:31 pm
user-pic
As an employee in Toronto for several years, my interpretation was always a little different from that of the author. Rather than the red headed sister, WBB staff, in general, have always seemed a little entitled.
In addition, as a customer, I have NEVER been approached at WBB, despite Indigo trying to improve engagement.
WBB used to get hundreds of customers referred from other stores as they were often the only place stocking a particular book, but there are several more convenient options now, especially since free ship-to-store from online became available.
Decreasing margin (Bestsellers are now 40% to compete with Walmart etc, 2x pocketbooks for $15 and Plum Rewards (minimum of 2% rebate)) on a product with very low margin in the first place don't go well together with increasing rent.

With this in mind, I wonder why it took so much longer to get higher margin toys and home products into this store? Bad business or Indigo knew that when the lease came up for renewal, they likely couldn't afford the inevitable hike? (My understanding is that the rent was generous compared to surrounding businesses).
hah / February 27, 2014 at 04:25 pm
user-pic
I think it all boils down to the author being a crummy writer. Word of advice: don't quit your day job. As for WBB, I'll miss this place! Staff has always been pleasant to me. Glad I never ran into this Sarah, though.
BlogItUp / February 27, 2014 at 11:01 pm
user-pic
Honestly, I was really taken aback by this article. Not only as an opinion writer, blogger and online editor, but as a former WBB employee. I was hired by World's Biggest as a teenybopper and book nerd, and it was and always will be one of the highlights of my employment history. Yes, being an employee at WBB does mean you are working at a retail job. Like other retail jobs, this does mean you have to deal with your fair share of bad customers, annoying questions and long shifts. However, it is the people, managers, employees, and the fellow book lovers that shop and spread their love for books and knowledge that make the job, no, experience, of working at WBB so special.

I would never trade the memories, nor the friends I made as an employee at WBB for anything in the world. Even though I no longer work there, I still feel like I'm coming home every time I visit those yellow walls, shelves of books, and familiar faces of customers and employees that have loyally remained at the store almost for as long as it will be open.

For Sarah, I am truly sorry that you did not leave WBB with the same experience I did. I know, that when those doors close on the store for good, a part of me will have been closed off too.
NativeTorontonianAl / February 28, 2014 at 01:00 am
user-pic
Those of you poking fun at this person's stressed scenarios when working there are simple ignorant. These ones are a part of either the group that pokes fun at anything and can never be serious; or went through similar things themselves but feel that just because they suffered, others must suffer too. Get some self-education, or keep it to yourself, because the world is already pathetic as it is. People should know that Indigo/Chapters is inhumane, and it's NOT a true bookstore, but is corporate soulless rubbish that has been hiding behind literature and dragging it down. It's a fact that the Indigo/Chapters is horrible in its vision and treatment of employees. Sure there is the selling aspect in retail, but their way is despicable and how they just push push push for sales, especially the cards, that it is no longer healthy. A number of friends have worked there and experienced this, and I even had peers who didn't work there but THEY had friends who went through the torture of this. If you don't know about this or any other matter, don't comment, but find out and ask and look for the answers. Also, why pick on your fellow citizens and instead side (or be apologists) for corporations and gov't? This is the worst thing you could do, especially in this sick and greedy age.
RealityCheck replying to a comment from NativeTorontonianAl / March 5, 2014 at 10:27 pm
user-pic
You haven't worked any retail have you?

All retail jobs are like this. They all have some sales goal or another. Indigo is no better or no worse then any other store our there. They're all pushing some kind of loyalty or credit card. Retail is a tough environment, it's not for everyone.
Ginny Boots / March 10, 2014 at 10:30 pm
user-pic
Sorry, you are wrong! The Coles stores out of the Toronto vicinity are the black sheep of the Indigo family, you have no idea. Ha ha the world does in fact exist north of Barrie!
Silo Day / March 10, 2014 at 10:36 pm
user-pic
Oh please I have worked for the company for 20 years in stores. If letting the staff take home any book they want to read, having a hefty discount, quarterly bonuses, and all the advanced reading copies from every publisher that your heart desires is bad, then I guess they are tyrants. The difference is in the book business you actually have to physically WORK ( yes those hundred cases of books a day do not shelf themselves! )so that's difficult for some people to take! The lazy ones, who are apparently 80% of the population! Man, we are screwed!
MeC / March 21, 2014 at 05:46 pm
user-pic
“Customers came back not only for the books but for the people in the store,” says former employee Sarah Khan. “It was like family.”

BAHA!
http://nowtoronto.com/news/story.cfm?content=197171
What / March 30, 2014 at 07:04 pm
user-pic
So... the store is better off closed because this blog post's author could not handle job stress? I'm not poking fun at mental illness (or whatever), but that is absolutely ridiculous reasoning. This article is rubbish. I will really miss the World's Biggest Bookstore. It is so sad that it will be turned into restaurants (which are hardly needed in the area.
Simon Tarses replying to a comment from RealityCheck / March 30, 2014 at 07:30 pm
user-pic
Ah, once again the soulless neocon idiots who don't care about anything except kissing the ass of The Man to get ahead open their mouths to speak and put down people suffering from work-related stress by calling them 'lazy' and 'stupid'. As I said above, human empathy is in short supply these days, and nowhere is this more evident then the comment made by sheeple like you. Proud of being a servile dunce, little man?

@What: In case you haven't noticed, Yonge and Dundas is suffering from having good restaurants that aren't chains (and even if it isn't, what's the harm in having more?)
Imran R Khan / July 24, 2014 at 01:26 am
user-pic
I just found out recently that WBB had closed for good. Back in the 90s, I used to go there at least once every month or two. I don't remember the last time I was there, but it was probably at least five years ago. I am a major book enthusiast (I don't know anyone who has more books than I do), but after I bought my first book from Amazon in 1998, and after Chapters opened in Mississauga (where I live), there were fewer reasons for me to head downtown to WBB. It was an awesome store in its day, but times change. While it's somewhat sad to see WBB go the way of Sam the Record Man, Eaton's, Consumers Distributing, Woolco, K-Mart, Zellers, Simpson's, and so many other retailers, times change due to changes in technology and the competitive business environment. All we should do is say, Thanks for the memories, and move on. The only constant is change.

Add a Comment

Other Cities: Montreal