"Wonder if we're the only bookstore in existence to sell fewer than five copies of Twilight?" the Toronto Women's Bookstore tweeted last month.
"In 1994," the Harbord Street store tweeted again this Monday, "there were more than 125 women's bookstores worldwide. As of now, there are 21."
But for how long? Yesterday, the 36-year-old institution and icon of the local feminist movement announced it is "in crisis" and made an urgent plea for donations from customers and supporters.
"It really hit us in the last couple of months that we are not going to be able to pay our bills," spokeswoman Robyn Bourgeois said yesterday. "We don't even have money to pay January's bills at this point."
Lagging sales had already forced the non-profit store to scale back its once-abundant cultural and political programming, according to Ms. Bourgeois, but the economic downturn forced the issue.
"We knew things were going to be hard, but we were unprepared for how hard they were going to be," she said. The store's volunteer board of directors is hoping to raise $40,000 by January - enough to keep its doors open for another three months.
The Toronto Women's Bookstore is one of three feminist bookstores left in Canada, according to Ms. Bourgeois, and perhaps the only non-profit. Its crisis follows this fall's closing of Pages, another downtown institution with a once-thriving specialty in cultural theory and politics.
Founded in 1973 as a collective, the TWB became famous accidentally nearly 20 years later when an anti-abortion terrorist firebombed a clinic run by Dr. Henry Morgentaler, only to destroy the bookstore upstairs. It rebuilt nearby, then faced financial crisis on its 20th birthday, recovering as a result of volunteer labour and a fundraising campaign led by well-known feminists.
"We're hoping to do it again," Ms. Bourgeois said. "If we worked our tails off I have to believe the community will support us. We haven't been around for 36 years for nothing."
Former TWB board member Judy Rebick also held out hope. "A lot of people feel really strongly about maintaining the women's bookstore and have a long history with it."