Another Regina bookseller bites the dust
by Paul Dechene
What the heck, Regina? Another bookstore is closing shop? We lost Buzzword Books in 2006. Book and Brier shut its doors in 2010. And now Buy The Book on 13th Ave. is calling it quits after 18 years in business. That means we’ll be down to basically three bookstores1 for a city of nearly 200,000.
Is that big-box Chapters on the edge of the prairie really that monolithic a retailer? Or are we such a pack of illiterate schlubs that we can’t even keep four bookstores in business?
That’s it, isn’t it? We suck. Will anyone even miss Buy The Book?
“I will miss it,” says Craig Melhoff, an instructor in the University of Regina’s English department. “When I was an undergraduate my bibliophile friends and I would take Saturday afternoon trips around to all the used bookstores, and Buy the Book was always one of them. The only money we ever had was whatever was left over after coffee and cigarettes, but we’d still come away with armloads of amazing things.”
As it turns out, a lot of people will miss Buy The Book. Since word got out that it’s closing, the store’s been packed with book lovers snatching up last-minute deals on second-hand treasures; every local media outlet has done a feature on the store, and everyone I know is talking about its closing as though it’s a major tragedy. Which it is.
This outpouring of love and concern for his business totally caught Buy The Book co-owner, Chris Prpich, off guard.
“I didn’t expect any media to bother with it. I’ve really appreciated it all. I was really surprised. It’s very kind and everyone’s been very respectful of our situation and whatnot. And it’s been really nice with our customers, a lot of them have said really nice things and wanted to thank us. I feel the same way. They supported us for 18 years,” he says.
Okay. Seeing as there is a demand for the written word in Regina, then why exactly are we about to lose one quarter of our bookstores?
Prpich says it’s a combination of factors.
“My dad and I — we run the place together — we’ve discussed [closing] the last couple of years because we’ve really enjoyed the business but we’ve accomplished everything in the business that we wanted to do. But then a month and a half ago we received a notice for a substantial rent increase and a different kind of lease with different details. And that really helped it along because it didn’t make sense anymore to be here so we decided to do it sooner rather than later.”
Ah, the dreaded massive rent increase. It’s been culpable in the deaths of many local businesses. In fact, according to Gordon Ames, former owner of the defunct-but-not-forgotten Buzzword Books, rising rents in Cathedral figured into his business’s closure.
“Rent going up was more of a final straw than a killing blow. The store was surviving, just not thriving,” says Ames.
But that makes one wonder what is it about the retail scene in Cathedral that makes it difficult for beloved businesses like these to weather rent increases. And the thing is that while the shopping strip along 13th Ave. is one of the most talked about in the city, it doesn’t have the volume of stores that a mall would have, and that means there’s a smaller variety of destinations there drawing people in.
Also, it lacks the retail density that you see on popular shopping strips such as Broadway in Saskatoon or Whyte Ave. in Edmonton.
“Can’t figure why more retail development hasn’t happened on 13th,” says Ames. “In larger centres, a hot neighbourhood is soon augmented; empty spaces get built on, non-retail structures get made over, even former front yards and narrow spaces between buildings get filled in.”
Ames also suggests that, despite there being ample on-street parking in the Cathedral area, perceived parking problems might contribute to the problem.
“There is a strong car orientation there that is part of it. ‘More retail with the same parking — how’s that gonna work?’ I was lucky to have been there before Safeway cracked down on users of their lot.”
And down the street, that parking issue has taken its toll on another business. Citing a lack of parking and a lack of a kitchen as key factors in their decision, Roca Jacks café is brewing its last cup this month. They’re a Cathedral institution and winner of many Best Of certificates in coffee-related categories. And while they’ll be missed and their departure is also tragic, the neighbourhood still has coffee. There’s 13th Ave. Coffee House and Orange Izakaya. Mercury will pour you a passable cup to go with your eggs. And a Starbucks recently opened in the refurbished Safeway.
Cathedral’s okay for coffee. What they don’t have anymore are books. And for a neighbourhood with a reputation for being quirky and artsy, that’s a noteworthy loss. A bookstore is more than just a business, it’s a purveyor of literature and learning.
“This is maybe predictable coming from an English instructor,” says Melhoff, “but obviously bookstores are important for the same reasons that libraries are important. You have to protect the institutions that guarantee access to information, to culture, and so on. So I’m all for bookstores in principle, of course.
“In a way, we’ve even lost part of the bookstores we still have, too, since the big bookstore retailers sometimes seem like acres of microfibre throw pillows, scented candles and porcelain housewares with fringes of trade paperbacks around them.”
When this issue hits newsstands, you’ll still have four or five days left to browse the shelves at Buy The Book. And according to Prpich, they have to clear the store out completely so you’ll find that prices will be marked down by 90 per cent during that last week.
After that, Buy The Book will be no more.
As for Prpich, he plays in bands including The Lazy MKs and The Lonesome Weekends and plans to spend all the free time he’s about to have on his music. Beyond that, he’s philosophical about the future.
“I think it’s important for anybody to do what they want to do for spell, get it done, then move on to the next thing to do in life.”
1. Regina’s three remaining bookstores are Chapters (south Albert), Coles (Northgate Mall) and Centennial Books (Centennial Mall on Broad St.). We didn’t include specialty stores: Christian and spiritual book sellers, comic book shops and the University of Regina bookstore. We also aren’t including big box department stores like Walmart and Target that happen to have book sections. You can add those in if you think it’s appropriate and adjust the percentages accordingly.
MORE BAD BOOK NEWS
Beloved bookstores closing their doors isn’t just a Regina tragedy — dead-tree booksellers have been in crisis for more than a decade. The Prairies will lose a biggie in January when Winnipeg’s legendary alternative bookstore/restaurant/café Mondragon closes after 18 years. The worker co-op was well-known nationally by activists, artists, musicians, left-leaning intellectuals and lovers of vegetarian food. It will be sorely missed. /Stephen Whitworth