Can it be that the slaughter of independent bookstores that began in 1995 with the landing of Chapters has finally run its course? With the ghost of Britnell's still clanking its chains and Indigo doubling its revenues this year, it would be a stretch to say the indies are thriving. Still, they're chugging along. Book City, that paragon of independent booksellers in the city, celebrated its 30th anniversary on Wednesday. "The joy of selling books is still more important than the bottom line," co-owner Frans Donker says. But it doesn't hurt to at least break even, and Book City does that with an astute mix of cheap remainders, new literary fiction, a well-stocked children's section and lots of poetry. Mr. Donker says the small chain has learned how to withstand the challenge of on-line bookselling amazons and purplish big-box monsters. In fact, strategic, niche-based bookselling seems to be the way to go. In addition to such stalwarts as Pages, This Ain't the Rosedale Library and Another Story, here are some other Little Bookstores That Could.
After a year of renovations, a 15,000-square-foot used bookstore will open at the end of October in the former shell of the Hungarian Castle restaurant on Bloor Street West. The third and biggest BMV store, this second-hander in the Annex -- close to Book City's flagship -- will offer a staggering selection of remaindered and review copies at $2 to $10 a pop. "Our mode of survival is basically price," owner Patrick Hempelmann explains. Despite his Honest Ed-ish scavenging for all that's cheap, Hempelmann sees his store as a specialist of sorts, a place where you can find Hemingway, Tolstoy or Freud even if the latest Camilla Gibb hasn't made it to the shelves. "We're in a bit of a niche in what we do," he says. "We're not really a traditional used bookstore, but we're not a new bookstore."
471 Bloor St. W.; 416-967-5757.
This stylish, welcoming shop just across from Trinity Bellwoods Park at Queen and Strachan has been thriving since it opened this spring. "Ask us in a year," co-owner Joanne Saul laughs, "but so far, so good." And their secret? "I think a big thing is the neighbourhood we're in," Ms. Saul says. "People in this neighbourhood really want to support an independent bookstore." Type caters to the Queen West strip's abundance of yummy mummies and tots by maintaining an exceptionally well-stocked children's section, and to local artsies with a strong selection on art and design. "What we have is really carefully selected," Saul says. Plus, there's good old-fashioned marketing. The store is also already known for readings and events (Margaret Atwood is coming in November, there's an art gallery in the basement, and the proprietors do outreach with local schools), and staff will gift-wrap their literary books and tasteful knickknacks.
883 Queen St. W.; 416-366-8973.
The friendly, collectively run radical bookshop, which has seen a number of names and locations in the past few years, relocated last year to a former Kensington Market fish shop on Baldwin Street west of Spadina. Now, it's better stocked than ever with Ernesto (Guevara), Emma (Goldman), Malcolm (X), bell (hooks) and your other rebellious old friends.
168 Baldwin St.; 416-850-7795, http://www.uprising.ca.
The Monkey's Paw
"I'm selling the most obscure books I can possibly find," Stephen Fowler says of his eccentric six-month-old curiosity shop on Dundas Street West, north of rapidly gentrifying Ossington and Queen. Mr. Fowler's peculiar, museum-like selection is best described as curated. Here, beside beetles in Lucite and working Smith-Corona typewriters, you can find Clinical Assessment of Malingering and Deception, monograms on The Truth About Automatic Washers or Rome As Viewed by Tacitus and Juvenal, pulp magazines, The True History of the Elephant Man, fine literature and a large section on etiquette and hygiene. Mr. Fowler's target market -- the same youngish, urban graduates who frequent the galleries just to the south -- is hipper than the typical antiquarian bookstore customer, he says. "It turns out those people are really interested in the dark alleys of information."
1229 Dundas St. W.; 416-531-2123, http://www.monkeyspaw.com.
The Toronto Women's Bookstore
Regularly voted Toronto's best bookstore in alt-weekly newspaper surveys, this beloved repository of everything feminist wins with a selection that includes crafts, music and zines as well as fiction, non-fiction and academic books. It's also a destination for events, readings and summer barbecues, and the staff maintain strong ties to university women's studies programs that keep them busy come September. It also doesn't hurt to be located on Harbord Street, the city's independent bookstore strip.
73 Harbord St., 416-922-8744; http://www.womensbookstore.com.
Also on that strip just west of Spadina, Caversham -- North America's only bookstore to specialize in mental health -- has been a shelter for cultured, thoughtful types and the therapists who treat them. Since opening in 1989, it has made itself indispensable by offering course texts for academic and therapy training programs, stocking tomes covering every imaginable approach to mental health, and maintaining a relaxed, intellectually curious atmosphere for browsers. And with that recipe, Caversham has been able to ward off the Indigo wolves. "Our market is so focused and we know them so well, and conversely they know us so well, that everyone benefits," long-time assistant manager Eric Evans says. "No one else has the kind of books we do." Clearly, Caversham has found its place as an independent. Crazy? Like a fox.
98 Harbord St., 416-944-0962; http://www.cavershambooksellers.com.