Last night I went to the Annual General Meeting of the People’s Co-op Bookstore at 1391 Commercial Drive. The attendance was disappointing — about 17 of us — and no doubt reflects the emormous difficulties facing small independent bookstores these days.
There was some good news: the operating losses are trending smaller each year, and about 50 members join the Co-op each year adding to the 500-600 members on the list. There are also a good number of volunteers willing to put their time into the business, and donations of good used books are helping to tick over the cash register. However, the bad news was undeniably dominant.
The Co-op’s cash reserves are shrinking rapidly and it is a toss up whether the operational losses can be staunched beforfe the cash runs out. Next Spring will be a critical point of review in this regard, with a good Christmas season a vital necessity for survival.
Due to the cash crisis, the Bookstore will not be represented at Word on the Street this weekend, the first time since the literacy festival began decades ago. Staff hours are being cut, and there are still difficulties getting and paying for new stock — the lifeblood of any bookstore.
The Bookstore has stopped selling event tickets as it was costing more money and staff time than was being generated by sales, especially as most events do not pay a commission for these sales. The tickets were bringing folks into the store but they were rarely if ever buying any books during the visit. A similar issue may bring a stop to the sale of progressive magazines and journals. The magazine publishers were described by some as a kind of Mafia, forcing the Bookstore to take five or six magazines they didn’t want in order to get the title they did want (sounds like the cable companies selling TV channels to me.)
All in all this was a rather depressing meeting about a Commercial Drive institution that it would be sad to lose. Perhaps the pundits are right: people just don’t want real books any more. Can that really be true? Can we save it by turning the store into a coffee shop with a sideline in books, perhaps? Could we bring in more events, community and political as well as literary? The Bookstore needs ideas and money and it needs both soon. Remember, books are great gifts for Christmas!