Nicholas Hoare, that embarrassment of writerly riches, is gone. And it’s a shame. The store had an air of manicured style, which is to say it was really nice inside—and while it’s heartening to know that its closure was speeded by Mr. Hoare’s retirement and not by rent hikes or tax bills, the usual culprits, its departure packs no less of a sting. (Mr. Hoare’s blog will still be around, maybe. We say keep it going.) These days few booksellers enjoy such a deliberate, delicate dismount.
There are many local bookshops, big and small, spacious and cramped, clean and slightly mildewed, that need patronage and support if they’re going to avoid giving up the ghost anytime soon. There’s an element of truism in all of this, no doubt. And people who write books and publish journals like this one should be the last to feel guilt; they’re the meagre rafts on which these stores depend to stay afloat.
Many still flounder monthly over basic expenses and view profitability as that rippling skin of water on the horizon—a mirage they’re better off ignoring for sanity’s sake. In recent years, for instance, we’ve been bystanders to a number of closures, from Toronto’s oldest bookstore, The Book Mark, to Pages, that onetime nucleus of Queen West that used to draw me in from the suburbs. Both ‘failed’ insofar as they were clobbered into submission by the ever-thickening rent stick.
And we’re just talking Toronto here. Nicholas Hoare also closed stores in Ottawa and Montreal, while Collected Works has left Ottawa one more bookstore short. This list could go on and on, but the gist would remain the same. Feel free to comment below on the bookshop whose departure has cleft your heart in two.
On the other hand, despite it’s closure, Nicholas Hoare seems to have dodged the swing. This owes partly to location, partly to its selection, but mostly its success can be chalked up to this: Nicholas Hoare was not just a bookstore. As anyone who visited the store can attest, it was a community space of sorts, warm and restful, where people came not just to buy books, but to read books, too.
Ann Patchett wrote in The Atlantic last year that this is the trick: to survive in 2013, an independent bookstore can’t just stack spines on shelves. It has to be aware that people can buy books cheaply and easily from any number of outlets and that they’re in an indie bookshop because they want something eminently human. As a bookshop, that might mean hybridizing, sloughing off the old robes of retail, and maybe buying a couch or two. Check out Q Space on College for a prime example of a shop taking this advice to heart.
Sadly, not every shop has an atmosphere like the great Nicholas Hoare’s (it requires space and cash, spectral resources for a bookseller), so many will continue giving up their ghost, their numbers dwindling, until it looks as though things are on pace to go the way of the Dodo. The difference is, unlike that feckless, beleaguered bird, this species is clever enough to survive.