Toronto Women's Bookstore

Trouble for the Toronto Women's Bookstore

"The Toronto Women's Bookstore is in crisis and we need your help!" That's the first line of an e-mail the non-profit bookstore sent to their general list-serve on Wednesday.

"We can't pay our bills," the board chair told me yesterday. Robyn Bourgeois thanks the recession and continued competition from big box book retailers for decreasing sales.

"It's a shame to see us go. We're important for people who want to think critically about the world."

The Aboriginal scholar says the bookstore was the first place that felt like home when she moved to Toronto five years ago. "There was a sense of community I didn't find elsewhere. It was an exciting and inclusive place," says Bourgeois.

What other bookstore in the city hosts a yearly symposium for Indigenous writers and writers of colour called "Written in Colour"?; Or launched numerous Toronto authors and academics?; Or has sections entitled "Transgender/Transexual" or "Disability Studies" and a stellar First Nation's collection?

"And not many people know about our children's books. Not all of us are o.k. with our kids reading Disney," says Bourgeois.

The Toronto Women's Bookstore was also treading rough waters in the 1990s. The bookstore laid-off its staff while a volunteer kept the store afloat for six months.

If the bookstore does nothing, they'll be slated for closure by May at the latest. The board met last week to decide whether to shut its doors immediately. Bourgeois says they agreed not to sink without a fight.

If they survive, they'll have to rethink the bookstore's structure, says Bourgeois. I asked if that means turning the Women's Bookstore into a for-profit business. It's apparently the only non-profit bookstore still around in North America. "It's something we hear over and over again. I don't want to do that but we also have to find a better business model that will work within our principles."

There are only four women's bookstores left in Canada. Let's hope the new year won't decrease that number by one.


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