Parry Sound Books

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A Sign of the times? NOT in Parry Sound

A Sign of the times? NOT in Parry Sound I have had customers coming from Bracebridge bemoaning the fact that they no longer have an independent bookstore in town. More recently customers from Huntsville told me that the independent bookstore in Huntsville, The Bookcase, has closed. Now another Bracebridge bookshop is about to close. Looking on the internet I found the following articles that make for some very interesting reading.

What I think is interesting is that both Huntsville and Bracebridge are much bigger towns than Parry Sound and yet they could not support their independent bookstores. Those towns must have the same sort of summer business from tourists and summer residents that we have here. What they must not have is the customers I have – Parry Sounders! So, I thank you all for the fact that you do shop locally, you do support your independent bookstore and that is what makes the difference between Huntsville and Bracebridge, and Parry Sound.

You make it possible for me to stock a terrific selection of books, hire staff that know what customer service is all about, and to bring authors to the Stockey Centre for a reading series we have presented for 24 years. We are here to stay, because of you!

I, maybe naively – we’ll see – believe that the worst is over as far as the declining book business is concerned. Many readers may now use e-readers, but if you are really a reader there is nothing – nothing – as satisfying as reading a real book. And – independent booksellers can help you select the books really worth reading. So read on …

Closure a sign of the times - Big box stores, e-readers, Internet sales forcing this merchant out (from Cottage Country Now 11 April 2012)

Remember the old hit song Video Killed the Radio Star? If you ask Louise Parkinson of The Bookcase, her situation is more a case of technology killed the small-town bookstore. “Yes, definitely,” she said. After 42 years, local landmark, The Bookcase, is slated to close its doors at the end of May. Parkinson, who has owned the store for the past four years, blames heavy discounting from big box stores, e-readers and online shopping for the store’s demise. “It’s a very sad day,” said Parkinson, “for myself, for the town and for books. There was never a day that I did not look forward to going to work,” she says. “There is nothing more interesting and exciting than being surrounded by books all day. It really was a wonderful way to make a living.” The Bookcase was started by Jean Reynolds in 1970 and had two other owners, Judith Ruan and Anne Smith, before Parkinson took over in 2008. “In the beginning it was great,” recalls Parkinson. “Everything changed, however, in 2010. The recession hit, e-readers took off, Amazon came into Canada and the big box stores started a price war on books. If it was just the recession, I could ride it out, but the book industry has permanently changed and I have to accept that and move on.” She said it has been just too hard to compete against the big discounters. “There’s so much discounting now of books that people don’t expect to pay the full price anymore. Unfortunately, it devalues the art form and the intellectual property of the book.” The other issue is e-books. According to Parkinson, 28 per cent of consumers in North America now own an e-reading device. “What we thought would be a bit of a fad, has become the new normal … and unfortunately selling e-books is not particularly profitable so it makes no sense to be part of it.” She is not the only person who shares sad feelings about the impending demise of the longtime business. Customer Mike Pearce said for him, Huntsville would not be the same. “It’s just so sad to see a piece of Huntsville history become history, particularly a place so charming and unique.” The Day the Falls Stood Still author Cathy Buchanan is nervous about the changes. “I’m a little terrified of all the upheaval in the industry myself, and do see much of what I love about books disappearing, the physical book and the neighbourhood bookstore being two prime examples. It is disheartening to hear that this lovely, well-regarded store isn’t viable.” Parkinson said the store’s closure is just another sign the world is changing. “People want things quick and easy and cheap. They don’t want the hassle of having to walk a block to have a unique experience. And they think saving a dollar or two on a book is more important than keeping their local community alive. In the past couple of weeks I have had so many people come into my store and tell me how terrible it is that I am closing, and I look at them and think, who are you? In four years I have not seen you in my store. They don’t see the connection between their buying habits and the demise of their local community.” She adds that with the changing times, her biggest concern is for the quality and integrity of the written word. “Independent stores champion and sell books that they love, not just the ones on the bestseller list. We are huge readers in the business because we love reading. Who’s going to be there to promote the new authors and the authors who challenge the status quo? It’s scary to think that the monopolies in the industry are going to control what we read.” Still, Parkinson said while she is not bitter about the demise of The Bookcase she does think if people don’t support locally owned, independent stores then they will close and local communities will die. But the death of the company may not come in late May. Parkinson said that she has sold the building, which houses the business and is in the midst of negotiating a short-term lease with the new owners to keep the store open over the summer in order to sell more of her stock. “I might rent it back from them for a few months.” — With files courtesy from Louise Parkinson.

Bracebridge bookstore closing doors Jennifer Bowman from Cottage Country Now 17 August 2012

The last new bookstore in Bracebridge will be closing its doors for the last time in December.

Scott’s of Muskoka owner Jim Dwyer hung the closing sale signs in the window during his favourite book-selling event of the year, Midnight Madness. He loves being busy, and the event is the busiest time of the year — he said he can barely see from one end of the store to the other. Those times have become rare.

Dwyer said the business has been going downhill for 10 years. “The store is an institution, like Eaton’s. Everybody knows about it, but nobody shops there,” he said, though he added business isn’t quite that bad yet.

When one of Scott’s major suppliers announced in January they were closing their doors, Dwyer bought as many books as he could afford to get his hands on, but he had to make a decision. They decided to start closing the store now, while the summer residents are still here to buy the merchandise, but are hoping to stay open until Christmas. “I’ve met more people in the past month than I have in the last three years,” he said. That’s because of the sales in the store ranging from 20 per cent to 80 per cent off of books that are already less expensive than most, and artist’s works in the art gallery.

The store specializes in Muskoka picture books, local authors and books that can’t be found on the Internet. About one-quarter of Scott’s sales are from books by local authors; half came from the supplier that closed.

Cathryn Rodney, CEO of the Bracebridge library, said they are saddened by the closure. “There are a number of times when we’ve needed a book quickly … and we’ve been able to nip down there and get it,” she said. They particularly appreciate the vast expanse of local history books there. Now they’ll have to go to Gravenhurst, or clients will just have to wait until it arrives from farther away.

Dwyer has owned Scott’s for 17 of its 30 years in Bracebridge. Some of the highlights have been meeting with people like former prime-minister Joe Clark, and selling his father’s Murder in Muskoka series, which Liam Dwyer began writing when his children gave him a computer for his 75th birthday.

Dwyer doesn’t know what his future holds — they may sell the old downtown building that holds both their store and their home, or their daughter may try her hand at another kind of retail store.

“I can’t afford to retire,” said Dwyer. “I have to do something, but I don’t know what.” He’s toying with the idea of community theatre, currently sporting some stubble he’s growing into a beard for a play he’s doing in September.

There is one thing Dwyer is particularly looking forward to when the store is closed next year. “Then I can actually see what’s going on in the street on Midnight Madness! I’ve never been able to anything except from the door. All I get is somebody will come in with one of those little doughnuts, and that’s about all I see of Midnight Madness.”

Muskoka’s Readers’ World set to close (from The Quill & Quire 12 October 2010)

Mere weeks after Ottawa’s Leishman Books filed for bankruptcy, yet another Canadian bookshop is packing it in: Readers’ World in Bracebridge, Ontario. Owner Libby Charron had been trying to sell the business for the past two years, but decided to give up after discovering the store’s profits had plummeted by about 15% this year. 

“I would rather close it now than go down with a sinking ship,” says Charron, the store’s only full-time staffer and owner for the past six years. 

 The 32-year-old Readers’ World is the only trade bookstore in Bracebridge, often described as the heart of Muskoka’s cottage country and home to more than 15,000 year-round residents. Nevertheless, Charron says there is too much competition from Internet retailers. “It’s just really hard to compete,” she says, adding that nearby retailers such as Shoppers Drug Mart have been offering new titles for less than she can buy them for.

 When Charron purchased the store from founder Ruth Thompson in 2004, it was still attracting many curious visitors. Now, Charron sees only 15 or 20 customers per day. She is hoping to sell most of the 4,000-title inventory by the store’s final day, Nov. 30. Whatever isn’t sold will be returned to distributors. After that, Charron plans to sell the building, move to a farmhouse outside of town, and look for new ways to earn money. “[Readers’ World] was a great second income, but I am by myself now,” says Charron, who is no longer with her former husband. “I will have to find a job.”

So, I’m not looking for a job, but I do I think about the fact that I am of the same vintage (retirement age if I had a real job) as the above (now former) bookstore owners. In the past few years I have watched as those who opened bookshops in the 1970’s and 1980’s have sold their business to staff members or closed – the most recent just this past month is McNally Robinson being sold to employees. In fact, very recently the Canadian Booksellers Association became simply a small part of the Retail Council of Canada - there are not enough independent booksellers left to support their association.

Publishing and bookselling are businesses currently in transition, and the change has been rapid. There have been many Canadian publishers and distributors who have gone out of business by choice or by being forced into bankruptcy in the past several years – some were very large companies and many authors who lost their publisher are still looking for a new one to take on their work.

Most recently Douglas & McIntyre, a very well respected west coast Canadian publisher has announced they are in bankruptcy protection. Will they now be purchased by another larger company, as McClelland & Stewart was some years ago? If so, will their future be the same – a Canadian publisher with a reputation for publishing superior Canadian books, bought by a multi-national company who does not have the same interest or incentive in keeping books by Canadians in print?

I have the same concern about the very recent plan for a merger between Random House and Penguin. Random House and all of its divisions – McClelland & Stewart is only one of several that were “Canadian” – is all owned by a huge multi-national company, Bertelsmann. I have watched title after title by Canadian authors disappear from the list of books available from Random House over the past several years – I cannot imagine that this will not simply escalate now.

This past summer I sold the very last of some out of print coffee table books about Georgian Bay that I purchased when their publisher went out of business. There is now not a single picture book available about Georgian Bay, the publishers of the last few that were published are gone. I watch my choices – and those of my customers diminish. I don’t see that as progress.

I have said before I feel like I have a front row seat, it is exciting, if a little scary at times, but I wouldn’t not be part of it for anything.

Thanks for the past 24 years – as we go into our 25th year at Parry Sound Books we look forward to the next 25 and seeing your friendly faces across the counter as we share the books we read with such pleasure.

Copyright © 1988 - 2013  Parry Sound Books, an independent bookstore in Parry Sound (Georgian Bay)