A whopping 26-per-cent rent increase and high property taxes are forcing Toronto's oldest independent bookstore, The Book Mark, to close its doors.
"With great sadness," owner Sue Houghting said, the Kingsway-area shop at 2964 Bloor St. W. will close by Jan. 21 – or earlier, if its reduced-priced inventory of books, calendars and other merchandise sells out.
Ms. Houghting said she had intended to sell the business to her assistant manager. But that plan fell through late last year, after the building's owner, Anthony Scolaro, refused to budge on a proposed rent increase for the 1,700-square-foot store – from $4,750 to $6,000 a month.
That impending burden, and the store's 2011 realty tax bill – $19,000 – proved insuperable.
She said the store had otherwise managed to hold its own against the increased competition posed by e-books, big-box retailers and on-line venues.
"What angers us," she said, "is that we felt we had a bookstore that could last for a number of more years."
But "an unaffordable rent increase and high property taxes have made it impossible to continue," she said in a statement.
"The e-book stuff hasn't affected us greatly," Ms. Houghting said. "We have a lot of loyal customers who don't just love to read – they love books. And they love coming into an environment where they can talk about books."
"I'm not putting them out of business," maintains Mr. Scolaro, who says he bought the single-storey building more than 20 years ago. "She did not want to sign the lease. I don't feel badly that she's leaving."
He said the hefty rent increase was justified by the fact that he had not previously charged Ms. Houghting for use of the building's basement, or for two parking spaces at the back of the store.
"Do I have another tenant in my pocket? Maybe yes, maybe no. You just wait and see."
If The Book Mark's clientele is unhappy that the store is closing, "that's not up to me, that's up to her," Mr. Scolaro said. "I'm just fighting for what I think I should get."
Ms. Houghting said she had renovated the basement, used for storage and an office, at her own expense.
McArthur and Co. publisher Kim McArthur, a long-time client, said the store's closing is "a heartbreaker."
"Sue was my local indie, and a fantastic bookseller. I always storm in there before I go on holiday."
Russell Prouse, another Book Mark client, said he learned the news Tuesday when he dropped in to order some anthologies. "I often shopped there for family," he said. "They would get you whatever you wanted and it's important to support the independents. Without these stores, what have you got?"
Mr. Prouse said he is not an e-book reader, because "I love the feeling of books, the smell of books, the bookishness of books."
Ms. Houghting said that other possible area locations were canvassed, but nothing suitable had been found.
She predicted that in the near term, general trade book stores would continue to struggle against the competitive encroachment of e-books. "But I honestly think 10-15 years down the road, we will see people switching back to [hard-copy]books."
The Book Mark was founded by Nan Chapin in 1965. Ms. Houghting bought the store from her in 1996 and has worked there for 23 years.
In recent years, several other independent bookstores in the city have closed, including Pages, Ballenford Books, David Mirvish Books, and McNally Robinson in Don Mills. In addition, Dragon Lady Comics, a downtown retailer of comic books and pocket novels, recently announced plans to close by the end of January, citing the pressure of higher rent.