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Books & Lit

Trouble for the Toronto Women's Bookstore

Posted by Debbie Pacheco / December 17, 2009

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.



Jack S. / December 17, 2009 at 09:02 am
"It's a shame to see us go. We're important for people who want to think critically about the world."

What self-important rubbish. Talk about how important it is to you, but come on. You can't say this about your own venture.
truth / December 17, 2009 at 09:32 am
As an explicitly sexist operation it deserves to fail. It should have failed decades ago, but survived thanks to the misandrist and hypocritical left.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.
Kate / December 17, 2009 at 09:44 am
Have to disagree with "truth" (??). It's not a misandrist organization. I used to work there back in the early '90s and we welcomed all customers, female and male, and served all communities interested in feminism, humanism, anti-racism, etc. My guess is that you have never entered the premises and dislike a self-proclaimed feminist business on principle.
The Women's Bookstore's troubles, I believe, stem not from their specific mandate but from the general economic downturn which has devastated many independent bookstores.
And Jack S - of course you can say that about your own venture! That's what people who care about their work say!
Bela / December 17, 2009 at 10:11 am
Should have sold more 'Twilight' books.
Phil-Chandra replying to a comment from Kate / December 17, 2009 at 10:11 am
Thanks for that, Kate.

Many people do not understand feminists and feminism. It is not the "F" word, it is about inclusion (rather than exclusion) and is interested in examining the harmful and insidious social trends, which promote division. The challenges people face in our society will not be solved by one gender, one race or one way of living alone.

But then again, people like Jack S. and truth would have known this had they bothered to read a book from this store or have a discussion with any of the knowledgeable people who go there.

Instead, bold-faced prejudice, snap judgements, no argument, all unprovoked.
Jessie / December 17, 2009 at 10:12 am
It makes me really sad to think that TWB may close. I guess I know where I'm finishing my Christmas shopping...
savethestore / December 17, 2009 at 10:29 am
@Jack S. - Do you know how to think critically? Apparently not. For people who like to think outside big box bookstores and big box educational institutions, The Toronto Women's Book Store is an artery. Simply put, they in fact are important for people who want to think critically about the world. Unless you want to choose from a selection of books that have been approved by the church and corporate America. There- I said it, not them. But, presumably you're a man, and one of those who don't realize the importance of a place like this for the 'other's' in this world.

This store can't die.
Rob / December 17, 2009 at 10:57 am
Based on the little I know about the store, and my own political and social beliefs, I probably wouldn't even wipe my ass with half of the books in there, but looking at it strictly from a business POV, it sounds like they are attempting to serve a niche market in a declining industry (I'm willing to bet book sales are down across the board as we have a population more interested in reading Lady Gaga's Twitter updates than an intellectually challenging book). Is it any wonder they're having financial trouble?

Josh / December 17, 2009 at 11:02 am
Never been to TWB, though I'm sure it does serve a need and I'd hate to see it go. At the end of the day it is a business (non-profit) and needs to figure out ways to increase foot traffic.

Maybe its needs to broaden its subject matter but simply asking for donations doesn't cut it for me. There must be an idea out there, providing some other service in addition to the great content it houses. There is seems to be a revival in craft and things handmade (the rise of Etsy.com), what about content or workshops or something related in addition to the books they currently carry.

What about coffee? Books and caffeine go hand in hand. Source a great fair trade blend that helps women in coffee growing countries (Check out Cafe Femino: http://www.groundsforchange.com/communities/cafe_femenino.php.

Mad Mel / December 17, 2009 at 11:18 am
Online store? There's a much bigger market out there than just "Toronto."
lina / December 17, 2009 at 11:41 am
TWB is a fantastic place, which is way more than a bookstore. It would be such a shame to see it close. I will definitely do what I can do support it right now as it is struggling, and I too will be doing much of my christmas shopping there.
Angie / December 17, 2009 at 11:42 am
"It's a shame to see us go. We're important for people who want to think critically about the world."

You know, I love small bookstores, but I think it's smallminded snobbery to assume that just because someone buys their books at big boxes or online, that they aren't able to think critically nor able to find, buy, and read books that *help* them to think critically.

It is tough to watch a business you love go under. But snobbish statements like this actually end up turning off those of us who MIGHT actually have considered buying from this company. If their store staff suffers from the same plight, no wonder the business is going under.
Angie / December 17, 2009 at 11:45 am
Are they taking any volunteers during this Christmas holiday? My younger cousin is under pressure to fill in his Community Volunteer hours for his highschool diploma. I think this is a great cause!
Mark Dowling / December 17, 2009 at 11:51 am
According to the Globe article they sold < 5 copies of Twilight. Business model fail.
rowdyroddypiper / December 17, 2009 at 01:25 pm
I guess there just aren't enough people who want to "think critically" anymore. What a load of shit. Critical thinking seems to mean whatever they believe in...the rest is all right-wing propoganda. If all the poor lefties can't scrap up the bucks to buy books from this shop than it should close. Please please I hope they don't go wailing to David Miller et al and beg for city $$. Maybe Hugo Chavez can help them out.
student / December 17, 2009 at 02:10 pm
I really like this store, and will redouble my efforts to shop there (luckily a number of U of T professors order their books to be sold there.) However, I have to agree that the 'think critically' comment is off-putting. I don't shop there so I can feel better or smarter than others, although that might appeal to others.
josh / December 17, 2009 at 03:13 pm
Sounds like that need to be re-branded. Somehow move away from the perceived snobby bias.
mondayjane replying to a comment from josh / December 17, 2009 at 05:04 pm
I agree. Instead of making polarizing pr statements that include cries for help, they would do well to re-visit their brand strategy and create a plan that invites the public and other possible alliances to expand their business.
Innocent Bystander / December 17, 2009 at 05:30 pm
Actually, the REAL story is that Dimitri The Lover took steps in mid-2008 to ensure that the TWB would shut down. I occasionally attend his Toronto Real Men meetings and he outlined the steps he would take at that time in response to staff at the TWB harassing venues hosting his meetings. It is way too coincidental that after 36 years of multiple recessions, a fire bombing, and several staff shakeups, these feminazis are suddenly in financial trouble. Dimitri just took responsibility for their demise in his last tweet: http://twitter.com/dimitrithelover
Mike W replying to a comment from Innocent Bystander / December 17, 2009 at 05:57 pm
RFD benefits greatly from registration of users/commenters in order to weed out nonsense and spam like this. I'm not a big fan of registering for everything I do but maybe it's BlogTO made that transition.
Innocent Bystander replying to a comment from Mike W / December 17, 2009 at 06:01 pm

Why is it that when comments support men and are anti-misandrous they are labelled as "spam". The plan to take revenge on the TWB was hatched over a year ago and it appears to have worked. I was there during its inception. I am informing blogto's viewers of its existence. Are you so naive as to believe that the demise of TWB was merely due to economic conditions? Grow a pair of balls!
Mike W replying to a comment from Innocent Bystander / December 17, 2009 at 06:37 pm
To push your idiotic business scheme as a cause of men is insulting to men.

To claim you caused the collapse of some business because you're enemies is equally insulting to everyone's intelligence.

I really do feel sorry for the people who lack enough self esteem to pay for whatever b******t you shovel them.

Man up and try to be a part of society instead of standing outside pretending to be cool.

And tell Dimitri/James Sears to stop molesting women, that's how he lost his medical license wasn't it?
Josh replying to a comment from Innocent Bystander / December 17, 2009 at 06:47 pm
Why all the hostility towards women? Mommy never breast fed you, eh?
truth / December 17, 2009 at 09:47 pm
Calling yourself "Toronto Women's Bookstore" bespeaks exclusionary intent. As does having the audacity to think that only by buying books from your store does someone demonstrate "critical thinking".

We wouldn't be celebrating "Toronto's White Bookstore" or "Toronto Men's Bookstore" that mirrored the goals and policies of TWB. I've been there and was treated with disrespect and encouraged to leave, just as I have been at CAY. Exclusionary leftist operations are as evil as any exclusionary operations without avowedly "progressive" politics.
Erica / December 18, 2009 at 10:18 am
It’s very disappointing to see that there people who still refuse to acknowledge that our society is patriarchal in every sense. The Toronto Women’s Bookstore is crucial not only to countless graduate students across Toronto who depend on the non-profit organization for material but to those community members who are interested in learning more about theoretical frameworks of feminism and those deriving from feminism. The closure of the Toronto Women’s Bookstore would only be a way to silence those of us who recognize the underpinnings or our society and “who want to think critically about the world.”
Mike W replying to a comment from Erica / December 18, 2009 at 10:57 am
So many better ways to muster community support than "without us you're stupid". It surprises me even more you keep pressing this point.
Erica replying to a comment from Mike W / December 18, 2009 at 11:04 am
It's not about implying that "without us you're stupid." It's about fighting for the right to have a bookstore like Toronto Women's Bookstore.

If people want to dwell and take the 'critical thinker' quotation personally, they're missing the point - probably purposely.
keven / December 18, 2009 at 12:20 pm
Perhaps people have thought critically about your store and that in itself IS your problem?

Just a thought...
Mike W replying to a comment from Erica / December 18, 2009 at 12:27 pm
I am focusing on the critical thinker quote because it's my only input on the issue: try not to insult people you need support from.
Anti Feminist replying to a comment from Mike W / December 18, 2009 at 04:15 pm
Mike W, I have to agree with Innocent Bystander. Toronto Women's Bookstore was way out of line to do what they did to Toronto Real Men. Even though I do not agree with the raison d'etre of Dimitri The Lover's group, we are all entitled to free expression of thought. This radical feminist man-hating mentality is the reason why I've avoided going into Toronto Women's Bookstore. I was invited there for an event a few weeks ago (I consider myself a liberated woman) but these radical feminist types give me the creeps. Their exclusionary attitude during a time when women are shifting more toward a traditional mentality is what killed off their business.
rebecca / December 18, 2009 at 07:20 pm
For years I've witnessed TWB take a lopsided position against Israel while turning a blind eye to the injustice of it's hostile neighbours to their own civilians. What was once a great bookstore and voice for women has become shrill and biased. I for one will not be sorry to see it close it's doors.
josh replying to a comment from rebecca / December 19, 2009 at 01:12 am
'injustice of it's hostile neighbours to their own civilians.'

Please. Don't bring a Mid-East discussion into this. Israel is no saint, ask Jimmy Carter or better yet read his book.

Joey / December 19, 2009 at 03:58 am
I think it's adorable that at 4:15 PM on December 18 'Innocent Bystander' decided to post another comment under the name 'Anti Feminist'. The stilted writing and poor logic are just too similar to be written by two seperate people.

However in the case that 'Anti Feminist' is actually a woman, she should post under the proper name of 'Uninformed Hypocrite' as all women and men living in Canada in 2009 have benefited and continue to benefit from feminism.
rebecca / December 19, 2009 at 10:00 am
Josh, you clearly share the TWB view of mideast politics. Using Jimmy Carter as your template for honest reporting only illustrates the paucity of your knowledge. Like it or not there are many active feminists who have, over the last decade, disassociated themselves with the TWB and their narrow world view.
josh replying to a comment from rebecca / December 19, 2009 at 10:42 am
Rebecca, my views are my own and been developed by living in Gaza for 7 months and Gaza for six. I have first hand knowledge. Do you?

Carters book is rings true.

josh replying to a comment from rebecca / December 19, 2009 at 10:43 am
I meant to write 'West Bank for six'
Mal replying to a comment from Erica / December 19, 2009 at 10:56 am
It may be about fighting for the right to have a bookstore like Toronto Women's Bookstore, Erica, but that doesn't translate automatically into the "right to stay in business if one can't come up with a viable business model:

1. In an environment where brick and mortar bookshops have been failing for the past decade.

2. During a lengthy recession.

3. In a city that's seen Pages and dozens of other small and independant bookshops go out of business.

And before I'm labelled another sexist white male, I think it's unfortunate the store -- any bookstore -- is closing (despite never having stepped through the doors of this one).
rebecca / December 19, 2009 at 01:24 pm
So living in the West Bank and Gaza but not in Israel gives you the ability to deliver a balanced account of the situation in the Middle East? No problems at all with Hamas and previous leadership failures?
My problem with TWB and your narrow world view is not the criticism directed towards Israel but that the criticism is directed ONLY towards Israel. That is TWB's historical political record. Perhaps yours as well.
In any case, whatever your feelings are towards events in the Middle East, the TWB has made it's bed and now it must sleep in it. In the meantime, let's hope they can depend on healthy donations from like-minded high-minded politicos like yourself to stay afloat.
Lindsey / December 20, 2009 at 11:11 am
I'm afraid I must agree with Rebecca. When the Toronto Women's Bookstore started pronouncing on Middle East politics it was more a choosing of sides, finger pointing, etc rather than any constructive solutions or ideas that would take into consideration both sides.
Louise / December 22, 2009 at 12:02 am
I am appalled at the number of people commenting who believe this bookstore serves special interests when it is actually commenting and highlighting the differences in power between social strata in our lives.

To call attention to women and to bodies that are marginalized, disenfranchised, and discriminated against is not a propaganda or "shovelling bullshit". It is speaking to very visceral experiences of violence, of hate, of loss. It is speaking critically about how our institutions are organized.

Trying to merely express these social justice "interests" are not interests at all but a matter of believing in restoring our communities.

I am horrified to live in a world where feminism is twisted into "feminazi". The act of speaking out about your embodied experience and narratives of material oppression? What? They speak to all kinds of women and men. They have been a safe haven in many ways not merely for academic "high" thinking. But for vulnerable populations.

I don't think Robyn intended to say that individuals who do not purchase from independent bookstores such as themselves are uncritical. Rather, she is concerned about the lack of belief in how our actions can really have an impact.

Of course, an alternative business model will need to be organized for them to survive.
Louise / December 22, 2009 at 12:05 am
There are people who come from critical corners of community work, activism, education that find this bookstore very important. It's not a practice of "self-importance". It's been a matter of finding spaces like TWB to be in solidarity with many silenced social and civil rights movements.
Mike W replying to a comment from Joey / December 22, 2009 at 12:46 am
James Sears AKA Dimitri AKA disgraced pervert ex-doctor's group (or just him himself) have an annoying history of posting as women/men who are not affiliated with him "supporting" his cause, on both here on blogTo and RFD more recently. Unfortunately they rehash the same talking points and phrases like "real man/men" "man-hating" "liberated woman" and make it obvious of their agenda.

This is why we need registered posting like RFD with post counts.
I suspect this would also shed some light on why so many people are posting in the Bakery To Go article about how it's no big deal a mouse is shitting on and eating the food we're sold..
Louise / December 23, 2009 at 12:27 am
I agree that we need registered posting to happen, with profile stuff like providing a photo (well, maybe that isn't necessary). But the idea is to make us identifiable and liable.
hunter replying to a comment from Jack S. / December 23, 2009 at 10:49 am
ya... how dare they sell books that talk about violence against women, colonialism, women earning at minimum 30% less then men for doing the same damn job, those man hating evil women!

seriously..... is this the 1980's???? where are these folks coming from???

long live the womens bookstore!
luo Han / December 27, 2009 at 06:51 am
They only sold straw men disguised as books.
Bethany / December 28, 2009 at 01:57 am
I vote if the bookstore must close its doors, they must go online!! There are amazing ways to keep your efforts going!
John from Toronto / December 29, 2009 at 04:46 pm
They would have been more honest to call themselves "Radical Feminist Bookstore". Maybe if they go, the next will be "Radical Feminist Studies" at our universities.

And by the way Louise,

"I don't think Robyn intended to say that individuals who do not purchase from independent bookstores such as themselves are uncritical."

That is exactly what Robyn (because of her own self-importance) meant to say.
constantgardener / May 11, 2010 at 03:44 am
I think we can get to the truth directly and patch up the conflict with one simple question:

Does TWB, as a feminist discourse suppplier, supply Camille Paglia?
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