Time Running Out to Save Pages
There are just over two months left to save Pages Books & Magazines. Voted the Best Bookstore in Toronto by readers of this site, Pages has been an integral part of the fabric of the Queen West neighbourhood since it set up shop at Queen and John back in 1979.
In recent years, we've all watched how many of the once thriving indie shops on Queen have been forced out by escalating rents and replaced by the who's who of Canadian and multinational chains like H&M, Zara, Aritzia, Lululemon and, ughh, Crocs. Their appearance has changed the integrity and character of the once uber cool stretch between University and Spadina. It was small consolation that places like Pages and The Horseshoe remained but now there's a very real possibility that Pages will be lost.
The plight of Pages has not gone unnoticed. Both the Toronto Star and The Globe & Mail have penned articles in the last two months about the situation. There's now also a Facebook Group, Save Pages Books, that is doing what it can to rally fans of the store. They've posted an email they sent to Councillor Adam Vaughan's office (as well as their response) as well as a letter written by Joanne Cohen, a member of the Church/Wellesley Village BIA.
Pages founder Marc Glassman is heartened by their response. He doesn't know either Ms. Cohen or Faith McGregor (who created the Facebook Group) but appreciates their efforts to raise awareness and encourage Councillor Vaughan's office to exert whatever influence they can to resolve the situation.
And by "resolve the situation", it appears that the only real hope is for landlord Pinedale Properties to change their mind about raising the rent, or at the very least allowing Pages to stay for one more year under the terms of the current lease. In fact, Glassman has asked for this concession but isn't sure Pinedale will agree. According to Glassman, Pinedale feels market rates for the property could be $400,000 a year, about double what Pages is currently paying. And like any business, it's rational for Pinedale to maximize their profits and lease out the space at a price point they feel the market will support.
But all this doesn't bode well for the future of Pages and, likewise, the Queen West neighbourhood. Local businesses (including Pages) have recently formed a Business Improvement Association (BIA) to help "improve the retail environment on Queen West", but even this initiative isn't likely to affect Pages situation.
The reality is that Pages negotiated what could be considered a very favourable lease ten years ago so the only way Pinedale would agree to not raise the rent would be out of some altruistic gesture to save what is arguably Toronto's most-loved bookstore and to win points with Councillor Vaughan, the Mayor and concerned citizens of Toronto.
Glassman is hopeful but not necessarily optimistic that Pages can be saved. Much has been made of him finding a new location for Pages, but he's been looking for two years and doesn't expect to find anything over the next two months that's somehow eluded him for the past 24. From Leslieville to Parkdale to St. Clair West, he's encountered landlords that he believes are asking way too much, and doesn't feel that even a reduced rent in any of those locations would necessarily make the business sustainable given their lower retail foot traffic compared to Queen and John.
The reality as well is that Pages isn't exactly a business on the rise. Sales of books have declined each of the past two years and I doubt anyone who knows anything about the challenges faced by independent booksellers would project a reversal of this trend.
For myself and undoubtedly many of Pages' fans, the Queen West mainstay has been more than just a bookstore. They have created an incredibly invaluable community environment and have contributed greatly to the arts and cultural landscape of Toronto.
Here's hoping they will be saved. If you feel so too, contact Councillor Vaughan's office and encourage him to continue to do what he can to help resolve the situation. Or appeal directly to Pinedale and let them know what you think.
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