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Gay Bookstore Death Watch: Glad Day Bookshop in Toronto


Glad Day Bookshop in Toronto, said to be North America's oldest by the Globe & Mail, appears to be on the verge of extinction:

"Glad Day has suffered a big decline in the past six months and fears it will be forced to shut its 40-year-old doors by the end of summer if things don't improve. If that happens, Toronto will lose much more than a bookshop – it will lose an 'active archive' of gay heritage in the city and beyond, said co-manager Sholem Krishtalka. 'On the shelves of Glad Day we have books whereby you can essentially trace Toronto's queer history from the early days to now,' he said. It's this very important recording of queer culture.' The store, which is also relied upon to stock queer libraries in other regions, is known as a centre for gay and lesbian rights activism and censorship battles. It became the oldest gay bookstore last March after New York City's Oscar Wilde bookstore closed its doors. Most years around this time, Glad Day would be loading up on stock in preparation for Pride Week in June. This year, it hasn't bought much at all, and has also moved to a business plan that looks only two months ahead. Sales have declined about 20 per cent since late last year, said co-manager Prodan Nedev."

Certainly not a glad day for LGBT literature.

Recent months have seen the death of Lambda Rising in Rehoboth Beach and Washington D.C., the Oscar Wilde Book Shop in NYC, and A Different Light book shop in Los Angeles. Last July, Giovanni's Room in Philadelphia, the nation's oldest gay bookstore, was struggling to stay afloat.

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  1. I went in there once and it was so small and the guys behind the register kept giving me looks that I just felt uncomfortable enough to leave.

    Also unless you know where it is, it's pretty hidden. Maybe if they moved more towards the village.

    Posted by: carl anthony | Jun 1, 2010 12:32:56 PM

  2. This is so incredibly sad. For me, coming out meant reading books.....books without pictures.....books with important ideas about what it meant to be a gay man. Amazon, Borders and Barnes & Noble won't fill that function. So, a hat's off to White Rabbit Books in Greensboro and Raleigh, NC and the many stores like it that are passing into the history books.

    Posted by: Chris | Jun 1, 2010 12:34:26 PM

  3. But also the same young gay people have the internet now, the same way bookstores were to you

    Posted by: carl anthony | Jun 1, 2010 12:39:38 PM

  4. Not too be too callous, but this is more endemic of book stores not taking the steps to adapt to the changing ways people read and get books. Companies who have rested on their laurels, even as they've seen online and digital retail growing are feeling the effects. (It's kind of like how Blockbuster sat around while Netflix and Redbox ate up their market share). Places like this should have started creating business plans years ago and started moving towards more of a historical/museum or research library type model. To be fair, I'm not familiar with this particular store or what they have tried in the past. Checking out their website it doesn't look like they have any events planned. How about holding some gay writing groups or hosting gay book clubs? How about hosting community discussion forums or bringing in gay writers to do workshops or presentations. There is definitely still a place for gay book stores, its just that their old models don't work any longer.

    Posted by: DSig80 | Jun 1, 2010 12:48:36 PM

  5. I think this is a symptom of a larger issue: Mom and Pop bookstores - regardless of who they cater to - are going out of business because the Wal-Marts of books (B&N, Borders, Amazon, et al) are pushing them out of business.

    Also, nowadays information is a LOT easier to come by than it was 40 years ago. GLBT bookstores were some of the ONLY places we could go to find reasonable information about who we were, where we came from, and where we as a community were going. But nowadays all you have to do is type in and suddenly all the information you could possibly want and need is at your fingertips.

    Sadly, I believe the days of the GLBT bookstore are numbered. As are the days of all Mom & Pop (or Mom & Mom or Pop & Pop) bookstores. And not for nothing, but I believe we are on the precipice of the Wal-Marts of books to become a thing of the past as well. If you can download a book onto an ipad or iphone or order it through, why on earth would you battle traffic, battle people in a store, and battle retail folk who could give a fuck just to get your hands on the latest copy of XYZ? I think books as we know them eventually will become things you can only get your hands on at public libraries.

    That's the cost of progress, people.

    Posted by: Stephen | Jun 1, 2010 12:49:20 PM

  6. Carl, it's on Yonge Street, the main strip in Toronto, and it has a huge rainbow flag out front. I would not call that 'hidden'.

    Posted by: secretagentman | Jun 1, 2010 12:56:31 PM

  7. @ DSig80

    Why don't you email me? Here's hoping they read email but you're dead on the money.

    Very good ideas and what I would do but to go even further with what you said, I'd also do joint partnerships with local young glbt groups who don't know their history OR also use the place once closed as some kind of meeting room for anyone with ideas to change the culture for good, charging them a bit an hour?

    Posted by: Rowan | Jun 1, 2010 1:20:22 PM

  8. Whenever gay bookstores are on the verge of closing or have already shuttered there this cry of "Oh, no!" and "What is the world coming to?!" by gay men and, especially, bloggers. But considering how Andy rarely ever posts any literary or book news, but devotes space to music and movies, it's no surprise that these stories are moribund. Towleroad is as much to blame as anyone else.

    And to claim that the bookstores are not being cutting edge is really pretty crass. People are lazy and cheap and would rather buy from Amazon than make an effort to support institutions. The storeowners are not to blame but people like DSig80.

    Posted by: Steve Berman | Jun 1, 2010 1:43:04 PM

  9. secretagentman, Those run down shops on yonge blend together in random knock off clothing and perfume stores. The doorway goes in and then you go up some stairs.

    If it was on Church, I'm sure the business would be somewhat better.

    Posted by: carl anthony | Jun 1, 2010 1:58:34 PM

  10. Glad Day was a very important place for me before coming out, during coming out, and after coming out back in the early 90's. It was tucked away, unthreatening. It had everything you couldn't find ANYWHERE else in Toronto.

    It's a very different world today, in a very different city. So we should honour their past, and acknowledge that they either need to change, or move on.

    Sad to see them go, as I'm sad to see the demise of The Advocate, tea dances at Badlands, the Steps at Church and Wellesley, and a long list of things that have faded away over the years.

    On the positive side, nobody would have predicted that we'd have virtually unlimited online access to the content that we had to get to the Glad Day to find - that has to be seen as a huge step forward.

    Posted by: MammaBear | Jun 1, 2010 2:14:06 PM

  11. @Steve, there is no reason to get snarky about common solutions that are basically marketing 101. As someone that's been in business and marketing most of my life, the ideas presented here are pretty damn good. In fact, with the success of the iPad, Kindle, Nook and a bevy of readers that will flood the market by the end of the year, I see another business opportunity for these stores to retain customer loyalty.

    Choose to ignore changing trends at your own peril. Essentially, adapt or die. Just ask the record labels.

    Posted by: Keith | Jun 1, 2010 2:19:55 PM

  12. It's not that the bookstores are closing. It's that people aren't reading as much anymore--and what they are reading, they're reading electronically.

    And don't blame it on the chain stores--Barnes and Noble is having their worst year ever, and Borders is on the verge of bankruptcy. The warehouse stores sell all the blockbuster bestsellers now, and brick-and-mortar bookstores can't survive on literary fiction and narrative nonfiction. Not enough people buy books like that.

    There is no "different business model" that can save these stores. Once the iPad--and devices as appealing to readers as the iPad is--moves into everyday usage, hardcover books will be a thing of the past.

    Posted by: JeffNYC | Jun 1, 2010 2:44:58 PM

  13. no mo books...NOOOOOO!!!!!

    Posted by: TANK | Jun 1, 2010 3:09:28 PM

  14. I am 45.
    For the past 20 years whenever I am in a gay town or neighborhood - I visited the gay bookstore to keep them in busines -- and to keep gay authors and publishers in business.

    It is not that hard and I was not wealthy.
    Bought a book or two.
    Have a library full still to read.

    The problem is the gay community just not caring.

    Otherwise go by a book at your local gay bookstore.

    No excuse other than the lame kind not support gay business owners in your home town and favorite gay resorts.

    Posted by: tony | Jun 1, 2010 3:15:28 PM

  15. @ JeffNYC

    Then you know nothing about business and if you have one, you are NOT successful.

    Have you heard of diversification?

    I won't waste my breath on such a stupid comment, instead I'll use your comment in my MBA class as case study for people who still don;t get how to diversify and therefore will try and be like the market but fail because they will never be Amazon or Kindle.

    These guys can do anything from adding a cofee store, to meeting play house, to museum to so many cutting edge ideas that you see here in Europe, esp Amsterdam, Barcalona or London.

    There is a market but you have to give to get.

    Posted by: Rowan | Jun 1, 2010 3:29:19 PM

  16. @Steve - It's funny because I actually am to blame for the failure of gay book stores. Everything is going according to plan. Bwahaha.

    I'll admit, I don't have a marketing background (I was an English writing student, and I've pretty much already lost any vestiges of good grammar, punctuation and spellings skills that I learned in school) however as Keith mentions, it's adapt or die. It's not about being "cutting edge," it's about offering people services and products that they need and can't receive else where more conveniently or for less. Yes, bookstores that try and function the same way they did even ten or twenty years ago just won't be successful.

    The big problem with people like myself spewing out a ton of ideas like I did in my initial post is that usually we don't have all the facts. Like I said, I don't really know anything about this store or others that have closed, or if they have tried any of these ideas and still failed. For example, if I were the owner of a gay bookstore I'd probably be busy right now setting up readings of Peter Orlovsky and possibly some other awareness events surrounding pioneer gay beat poets and how they still influence poets today. It's important to promote and support and grow the community of gay readers and writers - and can help move product as well. But it's very possible that bookstores like this are already trying avenues like this and it's just not helping enough. Ideas are cheap - executing them is the challenge and when you're so far behind the curve it can still be futile.

    @JeffNYC - While you may very well be correct, I still think there might be some life left in physical books. Take a look at the music industry - in the past few years vinyl records have made a huge resurgence and have been making profits. If I had to guess I would say that the biggest causality of all of this for bookstores is going to be paperback books and that publishing companies will start heading toward limited run, more expensive collectors edition prints for those nostalgic souls who like a classy bookshelf and a tactile experience when reading. We'll see where things go I guess.

    Posted by: DSig80 | Jun 1, 2010 3:50:28 PM

  17. I love that bookstore, it's one of the best gay shops around the village.

    I always try to go by when I'm in the city.
    I'll be sad to see it go.

    Posted by: Derek | Jun 1, 2010 5:21:56 PM

  18. I love this bookstore and go there everytime im in the city. the people are quite nice. While i dont agree that they are hidden, it might be better if they were on the ground level.

    Posted by: Marc | Jun 1, 2010 7:53:02 PM

  19. @carl anthony: there used to be another bookstore in the village. "this ain't the rosedale library" used to be located right on church, just south of wellesley. but it moved to the kensington market area back in 2008 because the rent was getting too high in the village and business wasn't as great. so, i seriously doubt that moving to church street would be beneficial to the glad day bookshop.

    Posted by: raphinou | Jun 1, 2010 9:48:33 PM

  20. During my spring break vacation in Toronto last year, I went to Glad Day Bookstore. I didn't purchase much, but I found it to be charming and worth the visit. I'm sad but not surprised that the store is shutting down.

    Posted by: Alex Sarmiento | Jun 2, 2010 12:30:38 AM

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