The Toronto Women's Bookstore announced on Wednesday that it may soon be forced to close, unless it raises $40,000 by January. The store, which is the largest nonprofit feminist bookstore in Canada, has been open for 36 years. This crisis comes just three months after Pages bookstore at Queen and John shut down.
This is not the first time the Toronto Women's Bookstore has suffered financial crisis. In the early '90s closure seemed imminent, but was avoided thanks to a successful community fundraising campaign headed up by local feminists. Fifteen years on, there are still many folks who would be sad to see it go.
"It would really deeply sadden me," says Teresa Chun-Wen Cheng, who has been the store's academic course books co-ordinator since May of last year. Before taking on this position, Cheng was a customer for around six years.
"I would make trips from Peterborough to Toronto and hang out in the bookstore for hours," she says. "When I was just coming into my politics it was always very welcoming. It was okay for me to sit there and read and browse."
Toronto Women's Bookstore is slightly unusual in being a nonprofit. It was always intended to be as much a community resource centre as a bookstore, and revenue generated by book sales helps cover the operating costs, as well as the cost of organizing and hosting events. Last month, the store put on Written in Colour: a symposium for Indigenous writers and writers of colour with 12 workshops on offer over the course of a day. The store website also includes an events calendar where other organizations can post details of their events and meetings.
Robyn Bourgeois, the chair of the bookstore's board of directors, says she is hopeful about the fundraising campaign. "I can't imagine that people will just let it go without a fight, and I've seen that," she says. "People are really mobilizing and being supportive."
Some organizations have already stepped forward offering to help raise money, including Canada's largest workers' union CUPE Ontario, which has thrown its support behind the campaign.
The $40,000 the store's managers estimate they need to overcome the immediate crisis will give them and the board time to devise a more longterm strategy to keep the store open. "Looking at the long term, we realize that the way the store is structured isn't working,” says Bourgeois. "Alongside fundraising, we're going to have to look at reorganizing to be more self-sustaining as a business."
"I'm really optimistic. We've always been able to rally and find a way to survive."
Despite the loyalty the bookstore inspires in some of its customers, it may not come as a surprise that times are tough financially. Independent bookstores increasingly have to fight to stay open, as they compete with discounted online retailers like Amazon, and big box stores like Chapters that are able to pile the books high and sell them cheap. (In Pages' case, a Chapters set up shop just one block away).
Toronto Women's Bookstore is no exception, and Cheng says that sales in her department have dropped off considerably.
"I guess students' reading habits have changed. There's Google Books, or people have no money so they share books. Because we generate so much revenue from course books sales, the drastic drop signaled for me that we were heading towards a not very good place," she says.
Unless the store's board of directors raises the necessary $40,000, the store is slated for closure by May of next year. The best way to donate currently is by calling the store directly, and a PayPal link for online donations will soon be available on the store website.