Toronto Women’s Bookstore survives as a retailer

Kelita Braithwaite came all the way from Peterborough to visit the Toronto Women’s Bookstore. She’s a women’s studies and psychology major at Trent University. (PERRATWB_BraithwaiteE)

Hayley Nesbitt and Kelita Braithwaite have travelled farther than most to get to this bookstore in Toronto. They’ve come 130 kilometres from Peterborough during their reading week at Trent University, just for the books. Even though they can order anything online here, they can touch the books they’re interested in.

“I heard about (the bookstore) ages ago, and there was never a time to get together until now,” Nesbitt said.

For 36 years, customers have patronized the Toronto Women’s Bookstore at 73 Harbord St. in Toronto. For some the store has ignited their feminist coming of age. For others, it’s been the place to learn anything from pitching novels to burlesque dancing. Most have enjoyed the same excitement about the books that Braithwaite and Nesbitt share. New owner Victoria Moreno doesn’t want to forfeit any of that tradition. But with a new in-house coffee shop and a wi-fi connection, she hopes to expand the store’s role in the community as a gathering place.

“A lot of people socialize now online, and is that really socializing?” Moreno said. “That’s the importance of keeping this bookstore alive in today’s society. Where we’re moving in terms of technology … I think socially the space is required.”

After a soft re-opening this summer, Moreno held a three-day cabaret extravaganza to get her store officially back in the game.

“The idea is that not everyone knows that we’re here and we’ve reopened,” Moreno said.

Edan Gomez works at the Toronto Women’s Bookstore. Behind the counter, the quote from bell hooks reads: "Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity. Moving through that fear, finding out what connects us, revelling in our differences; this is the process that brings us closer, that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community." (PERRAGomez_TWBE)

Until Moreno took over, the bookstore was a non-profit organization. Last December, the store’s board of directors, indicated the store had financial troubles. Fund-raising kept it afloat for a few more months, but by spring the store was close to bankruptcy. That’s when Moreno approached the board about becoming the store’s owner. So, one of the last non-profit bookstores in North America closed.

Toronto writer and performer Anna Camilleri has launched her books at the store and taught several courses there. Even though it’s no longer non-profit, she’s glad the Toronto Women’s Bookstore is still operating.

“What distinguishes the women’s bookstore is that you can go (there) and actually have a conversation,” Camilleri said. “Not just about the book you are looking for, but the idea you want to explore and the kind of fiction you want to explore.”

Book buyers can also have a conversation with the painter. Ramona Wendel, one of Moreno’s long time friends, has spent the last two months painting and reconstructing the store. Often she’d work at her business during the day and come to the store at night.

“When you know what the store is about, it’s worth it,” Wendel said.