Katya Nostko is in the midst of explaining the important role her community has in the success of her independent bookstore when the phone rings.
“Great Escape Bookstore,” she answers. “Yes, I think she is here. Hold on.”
“Excuse me,” Nostko says to an elderly woman approaching the counter. “But are you waiting for your dentist appointment down the street?”
The lady looks shocked. “How did you know?”
“Lady with a big hat,” laughs Nostko. “They say they’re ready for you.”
It’s a funny scene and a great example of what Nostko was just trying to put into words.
Owning an independent bookstore is more than just making a profit. It’s about being a touchstone of the community, a place for quiet discoveries, and laughs with customers and neighbours. Where else would a dentist look for their patients who have strayed from the waiting room?
The plight of the independent bookstore has been well documented of late. Book City, a Toronto institution for 38 years, made headlines with its announcement that it will finally shut the doors of its Bloor Street flagship store later this month. The World’s Biggest Bookstore announced it will close after 34 years of operation. Steven Temple Books, a seller of rare and antique books for nearly 40 years finally threw in the towel. Toronto’s oldest bookstore, The Book Mark, closed last year after running continually since 1964. The Toronto Women’s Bookstore, Pages, even the Toronto flagship location of Chapters — all have closed shop within the last few years.
E-readers and online purchasing have been a blow to the independent bookstore. Recent market research shows that in the U.S., nearly half of all book sales were conducted online.
Katya Nostko acknowledges the negative effect online suppliers like Amazon have had on bricks and mortar bookstores but remains positive.
“Actually, on a weekly basis I find that we are even having more and more customers,” she says. “They are coming from farther away and it’s for two reasons: they are looking for something they can’t find online but more importantly they are looking for the experience.”
It’s that experience that may be the saving grace for the independent bookstore. For many, choosing a new book is a process meant to be enjoyed. Being able to peruse shelves for prospective purchases, leaf through pages and chat with staff is what keeps people coming back to stores like The Great Escape Bookstore.
“Well, I hope so,” says Nostko. “I’m in it for the long haul.”