Photo courtesy of Toronto Women’s Bookstore.
Does anyone really want to remember 2009 as the year of the indie bookstore funeral? Last week, the board of the non-profit Toronto Women’s Bookstore voted on whether to shut the doors to the cash-strapped Harbord street store immediately. Not surprisingly, the feminist, anti-oppression organization opted to stick it out and fight.
The store’s economic woes are primarily recession-related, says chair of TWB’s board Robyn Bourgeois, but other factors have contributed. Internally, the non-profit has undergone recent structural changes and a massive turnover in board and staff—an upheaval that left the organization unsteady and unprepared in a difficult economy. There is also a crisis in the independent bookselling industry overall, Bourgeois says, with smaller, alternative stores unable to compete with their large-scale competitors and, in particular, online purchasing.
One of the last and largest non-profit feminist bookstores in North America, the thirty-six-year-old TWB has weathered its share of troubled times: in 1984 the store was firebombed along with a then-attached Henry Morgentaler abortion clinic, in the 1990s it pulled itself out of the red in a time when most of North America’s feminist bookstores went under, and in the early years of this decade it resisted a post-9/11 wannabe boycott waged in response to the sale of politically controversial buttons.
If the store closes, it will be a loss of something more than just purveyor of books. “We’re not just a bookstore,” Bourgeois says, “Our mandate has always been to fight oppression. Bookselling is what allows us to stay alive as a non-profit organization, but it’s just one part of what we do. We hold events of all kinds: book launches, workshops, readings. We have a great relationship with the academic community, and we also partner with other organizations doing meaningful frontline work with some with of the most disadvantaged members of this city. We’ll be losing a member of a thriving community if the Toronto Women’s Bookstore closes.”
The store needs $40,000 in order to stay open for the next three months. “We’ve been working internally to make cuts anywhere we can,” says Bourgeois, “but now we need help from the outside community.”