Outside the flagship store, a sign in chalk reads, "The end is nigh." Inside, shoppers line up holding stacks of books, taking advantage of the going-out-of business reductions. After 32 years in business, Vancouver's Book Warehouse is closing, all four remaining locations to shut down over the next two months or so.
"As you can imagine, it's pretty much bittersweet," president Sharman King said on Thursday, the day the closing was announced. "Our leases are up, and to continue longer would be an extended commitment that I wouldn't want to be making at 65. ... That being said, it's also better to go out at a time when we're on an upswing. I'd hate to hang on and find out that we were in financial difficulty because the book business is changing."
Mr. King said he is not closing the stores because of disappointing sales. On the contrary, sales in December were up 10 per cent. "I don't see the book business going away. There will always be writers and there will always be readers," he said. "We don't see the independent bookstores in a metropolitan area going away at all."
About 30 full- and part-time employees will lose their jobs.
"I was kind of surprised because it's usually quite busy in here," said customer Paul Rennie, a cancer researcher who works nearby and drops in often for books on birding and travel.
Book Warehouse started as a remainder bookstore at the West Broadway location in 1980, but expanded into a small chain in which all books were discounted. At times, books were sold for nine cents, or by the pound, or by the foot. At one point, customers were even paid a nickel to take a book, Mr. King recounted on Thursday.
He said online book sales and e-books are factors in the changing book business, but added they're also developing the market. "I think that our results in December weren't an anomaly."
Still, the closing is another blow to Vancouver's cultural landscape at a difficult time. Book Warehouse was involved in promotional partnerships with a number of institutions, including Vancouver Opera, the Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival, the Vancouver International Film Festival, the Cultch, and the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company, which announced last Friday that it was shutting down. Book Warehouse's contributions ranged from printing season offerings on bookmarks to posting ads in the windows.
The stores will remain open to sell off the stock in the locations and at the warehouse – currently jammed, according to Mr. King, with about 30,000 books. Fixtures are also being sold.
"I think there's going to be some awfully good bookshelves in some houses."
On Thursday, bargain hunters were busy at the West Broadway store, which is offering 25-per-cent off all stock (as are the others; the North Vancouver location is offering discounts of 50 per cent.) "It's quite a loss as far as I'm concerned," said Val White, a physician. "I'm quite upset because I just work at the hospital and I like to come down on my lunch. I always come here first to buy a book."