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Bookstores

This Ain't the Rosedale Library

Posted by Derek Flack / Posted on February 3, 2010

This Ain't the Rosedale LibraryThis Ain't the Rosedale Library is, if nothing else, a survivor. Over the store's more than 30 year history, Toronto has seen its fair share of booksellers come and go, the rise of mega stores like Indigo, and the beginning of the e-book era -- but still it continues on.

Although I've used the analogy before, I think it's apt to compare the independent bookseller to a character one might find in a William Faulkner novel. Surrounded by the forces of change, he remains a throwback to a sort of golden age, the memory of which supplies him with the will (and stubbornness) to endure despite a difficult present and an ominous future.

This Ain't the Rosedale LibraryThere is, of course, a certain defeatism to such a comparison, but I use it as much to highlight my own nostalgic tendencies as to lament the fate of bookstores in general.

Charles Huisken, the founder of This Ain't the Rosedale Library, is very much a representative of a time when bookstores played a more significant cultural role in the life of our city. When I pay my visit, I'm quickly taken by his uncanny ability to call to mind anecdotes and stories about many of the titles scattered throughout the store and his vast knowledge of Toronto's literary history.

He also clearly enjoys chatting about books, and his willingness to engage me was far from special treatment. Conversations such as the one we had are, no doubt, an everyday occurrence at the store.

This Ain't the Rosedale LibraryIt has, of course, become cliche to celebrate these types of things, but perhaps only because many attribute such qualities to those who never possessed them in the first place. I can think of a number of bookstores I used to frequent whose owners were about as surly as you can imagine, and anything but helpful when asked for a recommendation.

But I get the sense that This Ain't the Rosedale Library's staying power has a lot to do with the quality of Huisken's recommendations and reading advice.

I'd be remiss, however, if I were to imply that he's the only one capable of serious book-talk at the store. At around the time that it moved from its longtime residence on Church Street (about two years ago), Huisken's son, Jesse, joined forces with his father. And it's clear he's already an excellent bookseller -- passionate, well-read, and young enough to know many of the challenges that face the family business in the digital age.

The Ain't the Rosedale LibraryBut, as important as the ability of the staff to interact with customers and recommend titles is, a bookstore is nothing without an excellent selection. Definitions of "excellent" will, however, vary from customer to customer depending on their expectations of a bookstore.

To be fair (and obvious), This Ain't the Rosedale Library will never be able to compete with a chain like Indigo in terms of overall selection. But, knowing this, the Huisken's try to offer something different. "We carry the often overlooked titles and love to recommend books that customers might not be aware of," Charles tells me.

This Ain't the Rosedale LibraryBasically, this is a store to go to when you haven't already made up your mind about what you want to buy. Don't get me wrong, the overall selection is pretty good, but it ultimately reflects the size of the store. To once again risk the use of cliche, the philosophy behind the Huisken's stocking of the store is quality over quantity.

Although they have well-stocked sections of fiction, auto/biography, magazines, urban affairs and books on art, the reward of shopping here is finding the gems you didn't know existed. I was particularly interested, for instance, in Jean-Luc Nancy's take on the book industry in the title depicted below. Prior to my visit I had no idea that Nancy had delved into such subject matter, but now that book is on my to-read list.

This Ain't The Rosedale LibraryI was similarly intrigued by a number of the photography and art theory books that I saw, not to mention the selection of first editions and signed copies in the glass cabinet adjacent to the cash. Though a minor aspect of the business, these rarities speak to a life spent collecting and selling books.

This Ain't the Rosedale Library also sells a small selection of chapbooks and self-published (or extremely small press) titles. Sold mostly on consignment, they're also fascinating to peruse. Not only that, but they encourage a community of artists and literati to frequent the store (as buyers and sellers).

This Ain't the Rosedale LibraryI can't stress enough how important this community-creation is. Beyond the chapbooks and small-press magazines, the Huisken's have taken to hosting events at the store two or three times a month. To some extent, this is one of the ways to remain competitive with internet giants like Amazon. By taking steps to turn the store into a hub for creative-types, they might just be able to make the sympathetic customer think twice before buying online.

If I'm any indication, this type of strategy can be effective. I'll freely admit that these days I buy a lot of books online, but I didn't leave the Husiken's store empty handed. They both made some excellent recommendations for magazines to tie me over until the next Cabinet comes out (Prefix Photo and the New-York based Bomb). These may not be major purchases, but I also saw a number of titles I'll be returning for.

Could I buy them at a lower price online? Yes. But being able to chat it up at This Ain't the Rosedale Library is worth the extra money for me. Lovers of independent bookstores better hope that's true of others, too.

This Ain't the Rosedale Library

Discussion

16 Comments

JC / February 3, 2010 at 10:46 am
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I dropped by the store for the first time last summer, it was a very hot day and I must admit I found the place uncomfortably hot. It was just plain unpleasant, with fans running on the floor in various corners. Just in terms of the customer experience, I'm not asking for a mall-blasting of AC, but it struck me as actually inefficient and not very welcoming. Hopefully they can address this. I too love independant booksellers, but I think this sort of thing is important.
xtine / February 3, 2010 at 11:06 am
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Great selection and pleasant service, it is a welcome addition to the Market.
anna / February 3, 2010 at 11:13 am
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it's a gem in the heart of Kensington, complete with lovely patio extended from the cafe next door.
Germaine replying to a comment from JC / February 3, 2010 at 11:32 am
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"I think this sort of thing is important."

Get your priorities straight.
stacey / February 3, 2010 at 11:43 am
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i love this bookstore and you forgot to mention that most days (in the unbearably hot, hot summer [eh, JD?]) they have racks of books outside 4 for $20. can't beat that!
Soren / February 3, 2010 at 11:56 am
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They lost a lot of LGBT books in the move - so it's a bit more like the Rosedale these days.
James / February 3, 2010 at 12:59 pm
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Wandered in there late one evening and got some great recommendations from the sales clerk. Nice place.
JG / February 3, 2010 at 01:46 pm
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Well, Soren, it makes sense that the bookstore stocks fewer LGBT titles since they no longer dwell in the heart of the gay village. This Ain't the Rosedale Library was so named even before their Church St location. Curious readers from all persuasions should do themselves a favour by paying a visit. Browse the shelves, talk to the staff and support independent business.
CERS / February 3, 2010 at 05:49 pm
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This is a great shop - thoughtfully curated, with stock designed to appeal to the highest common denominator. It's one of the only places left in this city for serious readers.
Jamie Reid / February 3, 2010 at 06:38 pm
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Charlie and gang

Many thanks for your continuing efforts to support our writers and artists. May you survive and flourish!
John / February 3, 2010 at 07:17 pm
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Ah, I love the Rosedale. Buy most of my magazines there, and they do have a great selection of small press fiction, plus journalism, music books, poetry, and a small but great selection of big-name titiles.

I also love how many events they host--that's the only way bookstores are gonna stay relevant, by being gathering places as well as marketplaces.

I don't mind the heat... it probably saves them a lot of money not to supercool the place, and they probably need every penny.

And the 4 books for 20 dollar racks are pretty sweet.
Excellents in Orthagraphy / February 4, 2010 at 03:41 pm
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s/tie me over/tide me over/
Alex / February 5, 2010 at 08:11 pm
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One of Toronto's greatest shops - I hope it's around forever.
johnnie replying to a comment from Germaine / February 22, 2010 at 10:21 am
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Yes, "I think this sort of thing is important" is rather disappointing...I mean, dry up, stay relevant, be freakin' nice! Or better still, go away.

TATRL is, by far, one of the best book experiences in Toronto. I admit that I do miss the weekly, sometimes twice in as many days, visits to TATRL. I felt safe exploring my innermost, and desired, fears via purchasing (what I considered at the time "risky") books that, in one or a myriad of ways, allowed me to find space within a community that I had not yet assimilated. TATRL was the vehicle that differentiated, for me, Queer from gay. I chose the former.

Charlie, continues successes, and many thanks.

And for whatever it this worth, I imagine that a few of those fans used to "cool" the uncomfortable space are the same fans that the very generous ergo comforting fellas at TATRL used back before the age of entitlement.

Allan Smith / October 5, 2010 at 03:00 pm
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Do you have Enterprises of Robt. Hamilton by Bruce Wilson?
Carolyn Freeman / October 19, 2010 at 04:41 pm
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I recently published a journal specifically designed for book clubs in Canada, called "A Journal for Book Clubs 2011". I am trying to get the word our to book club members everywhere. Check out my website: www.perceptionsjournals.info
Thank you Carolyn
The idea is to have a new one published every year for book club members so they would look forward to a new one each year.

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