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Bookstores

Swipe Books

Posted by Derek Flack / Posted on February 5, 2009

Swipe BookstoreAs I repeatedly circled around Richmond and Adelaide in search of the new location of Swipe Books, I began to wonder how a store so difficult to find could have any chance of survival. After about four loops in my car and the utterance of just a few expletives, I had the radical thought that maybe I should double-check my notes to confirm the address. Suffice to say, I might have kept circling all day had I not had that vague (and not altogether rare) feeling that, despite my annoyance, maybe it was me who was the idiot. After all, it's pretty hard to find a store located at 401 Richmond when searching desperately for 410 Richmond.

401 RichmondOnce I had the correct address, it was a cinch to find Swipe. In fact, the building in which it is located is one that I've walked through a number of times in the past (before the store's arrival). A restored tin factory that houses a vibrant mix of studios, galleries and a few commercial spaces, 401 Richmond might just be the perfect location for a store that specializes in books on graphic design, architecture and the built environment. That is, if it weren't for that fact that the building offers no street-front space. Wrong address or not, I probably wouldn't have continually missed Swipe if it had a street presence, a point that's not lost on the store's owner, David Michaelides. One of his chief worries when he moved into the current space in May 2008 was that the location within a larger building might cast Swipe both out of sight and out of mind.

David MichaelidesThis, of course, begs the question: why did he move in the first place? Typically, his reasons had to do primarily with survival. As he frankly explained to me, "at the end of a lease cycle, pretty much all independent bookstores have to move." He should know; he's been in the book business coming on thirty years. And even when they're pretty successful, he continued, "they just can't afford to renew." For sad proof of this, consider the collective fates of Ballenford Books, Pages, and David Mirvish Books, all of which are closed or closing. One of the great difficulties, according to David, is that even when a bookseller has been astute in his choice of an up and coming area, he's still inevitably priced out of the market when the neighbourhood becomes established. In other words, you're damned if you do find a great location and damned if you don't.

Lounge Area
So what to do? Well, despite the doom and gloom, the very fact that Swipe is still with us speaks to the viability - however precarious - of independent booksellers. But, to maintain their presence throughout the city, David muses that we might need to radically rethink how such bookstores operate and the nature of services that they provide. While they're clearly commercial enterprises, it might be more accurate to liken these stores to art galleries (most of which are also commercial, lest we forget). After all, where else is one so welcomed to loiter? And beyond this, having something of a patron figure can help to keep the doors open. Without getting into financial specifics, Margaret Zeidler, the owner/landlord of the building has been supportive of Swipe, believing not only in the concept of the store, but what it brings to a building occupied primarily by private galleries and studios.

Design BooksI like this idea. When I go to bookstores, the experience is similar to the one I have at art galleries: a sort of meandering walkabout with plenty of time for contemplation. And hey, as expensive as some books are, they're cheaper than most pieces of art. Speaking of which, Swipe in particular seems a good example of this mix between gallery and store. Over the eight years it's been open, Swipe has gradually carried more and more non-book items in the form of exemplary pieces of design that range from the idiosyncratic and cheap (think egg-timer), to the sophisticated and pricey (think stainless steel juicer). There's also a well-stocked children's area, including books and toys. These items account for about half of the store's revenue, which might be high for a place that still characterizes itself as a bookstore first and foremost. But, that's just the nature of profit margins.

For all the promise that David sees in the new location, he still uses a rather apt screen analogy to summarize what it's like in the independent book business. Most will remember the famous opening scene from Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Harrison Ford narrowly escapes being crushed by a massive stone boulder. David likens his position to this frantic attempt to escape a boulder that is already in motion. What I find worrisome about this analogy, however, is that though Jones does indeed escape the cave (and the boulder), when he tumbles into the outside world, he is greeted by his archaeological nemesis, Belloq, who relieves him of his prized artifact. Left with nothing to show for his ingenuity and heroism, Indy must once again thwart death as he runs to his escape plane. But, alas, it doesn't matter because he isn't in it for the profit, but for the adventure. For better or for worse, this may be the case for David, too. And when was the last time you saw a blockbuster about a bookseller? (And, no, You've Got Mail doesn't count!)

Swipe Sign

Children's items

Design Books

Globe

Discussion

12 Comments

somebody! / April 16, 2008 at 05:12 am
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swipe is moving to 401 richmond, will be closing at their old location on the 19th of april and reopening in the new one on may 1st.
/ September 28, 2008 at 05:35 am
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What are the hours of operation?
Julie / December 9, 2008 at 03:54 pm
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They're Monday to Friday 10-7 and Saturday 12-6. Last time I was there they said they'd open Sundays just for December.
Elle Driver / February 7, 2009 at 02:15 pm
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What happened to the photo of David, the owner? (This is the second time this week I've noticed a photo being taken down, after the post was published.)

Anyhow, he's an incredibly entertaining guy to talk to - I spoke to him on the day it was announced that DM Books was shuttering. If you want to get into a heated yet jovial conversation about the current state of the book industry, I recommend you go up and introduce yourself to him.

It should also be noted that there are plans to expand the current space - David mentioned that this would happen within the next few months. I think their new space is absolutely beautiful, and I can't wait to see how it evolves.
Bubba / February 7, 2009 at 08:40 pm
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I've shopped at sw pe for years, from the DX to Richmond to the 401.
I like the fact that i can go in look at stuff that inspire me as a
designer. The fact I can pick things up and examine them as to just
looking at a picture of it online makes a difference to me. I will
always support sw pe, we need more business like this it's what makes
living in Toronto so great. I hate to think of the alternative like
what is happening just up the street on Queen St.
spyder / February 8, 2009 at 12:45 pm
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Coolest shop in teh city. Actually, too cool for TO.
Victoria Westcott / February 8, 2009 at 08:08 pm
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Derek, I wish I could write like you. This is a great article. Thanks so much for writing for all us wannabee writers out there. I'm inspired,
Vickie
RC / March 11, 2009 at 11:08 am
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Do you carry Chemex coffee makers? Chemex says you do.
Swipe replying to a comment from RC / March 20, 2009 at 09:45 pm
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Yes , we carry the 3, 8 and 10 cup classic models as well as accessories and filters for those models we carry. Blogged at http://www.swipe.com/?p=870 . Pricing is kind of tough because there is significant Canadian duty on glass housewares that are manufactured outside the NAFTA zone (as these now are). Still they're here in Toronto, and readily available which should save you on shipping and trouble at the border. Give us a call at 416-363-1332.
AS / January 5, 2011 at 02:29 am
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I have been at this bookstore both at its old location and its new one. I have bought several books there. It has great books. It also has great non-book items. I have, however, found the owner to be very unhelpful and rude. In fact, I have found him to practically bristle with hostility when I have spoken to him. This is despite the fact that I am and present as being a very hip, pleasant, well-educated and well-read person, and am in fact a published author and far from low income. Having seen the owner interact very pleasantly with other customers at the store, I have little hesitation in saying what conclusion I have personally, sadly, reached for why he behaves the way he does. He seems to me to be an extremely prejudiced person. That is not to say that he is even-handed in his prejudice. He seems, for instance, to be enchanted with East Asian (Chinese and Japanese) culture and design. And, it is true that these are very interesting cultures and that these countries and persons of these ancestries have produced a very commendable body of work. With that I take no issue. It would never occur to me to take any issue with that. Beyond his interst in East Asian culture and design, however, primarily what he presents as is a real Europhile. It is an unfortunate fact that one finds many such persons in Toronto in this day and age at places such as this which one would not expect to find them.
Dianne (De Genova) Narrol / April 3, 2011 at 07:30 pm
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This message is for David M. Congrats on Swipe Books!
It's been about thirty years. Wouldn't mind connecting with you some time.

Best Wishes,
Dianne
annabelle king / October 14, 2014 at 05:50 pm
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I don't know if this is a comment but I will take a chance and send ir anyhow so here goes.
I am a book reviewer and I get to keep the books. I have more than 150 books on every subject to name a few: design architecture, gardening, home care, mystery, healthy homes, cooking, well known authors, health care, womens issues, romance.
The hard covers are in mint covers and the soft covers are my puchases and are bundled by author.

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