Tag Archives: The Comicshop

The Demise of Bookstores

I spent many many years working as a book buyer in a bookstore. It was a bookstore specializing in science fiction and fantasy, as well as books to do with cartoons, animation, fantasy art and genre films. I used to know every book coming out. The bookstore was mostly a comic book store that had the book area as well as the gaming area, which had started with Dungeons & Dragons.

The comics branched into all sorts of merchandise, made hugely popular by Todd McFarlane and his toys and of course his Spawn comic creation. Dungeons & Dragonsexpanded into numerous other roleplaying games and became predominated by Warhammer. The books, well they went the way of the dinosaurs when the owner decided they weren’t profitable.

Of course the reasoning was faulty because most bookstores keep their regular customers coming in by buying the new monthly releases. All publishers have new releases and most of the major ones have both paperback and hardcovers, with the larger and more popular selections coming out before the seasonal holidays and the second largest for the ending of the school year (usually the college year but coinciding with summer as well).

The owner didn’t pay his bills on time, which meant the mass market monthly releases didn’t come out and though some people were always buying the older books (series) too, many shoppers read all the new books every month. It was a flawed logic but it still killed the book aspect of the store, except for the art books.

Over those years there were fights by many independent booksellers to protect their rights. The megastores like Chapters came along and got super deep discounts from the publisher, which meant they could lower the price of their books. Whereas the small independent bookstore would buy maybe 25 instead of 2500 of a book and couldn’t lower the price. The difference in the two types of store is that the bigger chain stores often had staff who knew nothing about books and a new book remained on the shelf for two weeks only, then was stripped and sent back. (stripping is where the cover is removed from the paperback and returned for credit since returning the cheaply printed books is not economically feasible).

The small bookstore would tend to keep a larger variety of titles on the shelf for longer, perhaps specializing in genres (antiquarian, fantasy/sf, crime/mystery, religious), and the staff would be highly knowledgeable, as well as lovers of reading themselves. But how does a little mom and pop operation compete against a corporation with business men drawing up plans for increasing revenues? They can’t and most bookstore owners do it for love, hoping they can survive, pay the rent and maybe live off the proceeds. You don’t get rich running a bookstore.

The independent booksellers had to band together across Canada to keep themselves from sinking. It worked…to a degree. In Vancouver, of the three bookstores that specialized in science fiction and fantasy (The Comicshop, Granville Books, and White Dwarf Books) only one survives, White Dwarf. Chapters expanded their sections somewhat but you’ll be hard pressed to find something really odd or obscure, or an older series but an other than top list author, unless you go to White Dwarf.

It is a constant threat and on top of the big box stores these days, there is Amazon, with their big discounts. Unfortunately people are looking more for the discounts and saving a buck or two (that they may then pay in shipping) and foregoing service and knowledgeable staff. I’ll always be a champion of the little independent store whether it’s selling pet food or books. To me, the homogenization of our society into sameness and banality will kill individual thought and creativity.

Maybe we are heading toward a completely electronic society, but not yet. With the economic crunch, it will be the demise of some bookstores and this article is worrying. http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/story/2009/02/02/bookexpo-cancelled.html This happens again and again and will happen yet again, but a plus note is that booksellers are tenacious and hopefully book lovers will survive. Here’s to the little guy, the underdog and a search for the unique shopping experience in the world of mass merchandising.

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My Mental Health Day

Thursday was my health day. Because I work in one city and my doctors are in another, I try to get all the appointments together. So I took a sick day to see my podiatrist, my GP and get my eyes checked after the laser surgery.

Right now it’s warm to downright hot in Vancouver. An unusually hot day is anything over 30 Celsius. So yesterday was a nice day to take off. I stopped by Art’s Auto on Clark Dr. He’d worked on my burned out signal light earlier in the week but it still wasn’t working right so he said to bring it in Thursday. However, after I left that day, it seemed to work fine so I dropped by to pay him. He said, oh don’t worry about it. If you have problems, come back. Not only does he run a good mechanic’s shop but he does things like this. Saturn looked at my car and charged me $90 to tell me I needed to spend $600. Art looked at the same problem but when he couldn’t fix it, he didn’t charge me a penny for the time. Thanks, Art.

Then I mosied downtown to my GP’s. Unfortunately it’s one of those tune-up appointments where everything is checked and probed. The oh so fun pap smear and after a certain age, the doctor says, it’s best to check the anus too. Oh joy. But relatively painless if discomforting.  

I then had an hour to kill so I walked a few blocks down Davie. I haven’t gone along there in years. Many of the shops are the same and I just wandered in and out of a few stores in the sun. It amuses me that the stores that have men’s underwear in the windows always have mannequins with prodigious packages. Those gay boys. Then I went back to my podiatrist and he chipped away at the orthotic (unfortunately it didn’t work when I tried it later).

It’s nice to have a day off during the week and it’s been a long time since I have taken one. With a few hours until the eye appointment I decided to go to the Comicshop, my old haunting ground. I had worked there for years as a book buyer and it’s one reason why I get any score at all on a geek test. Well, that and being into science fiction and fantasy, even if I don’t dress like a Trekkie. I picked up a few comics that I still read: anything by Los Bros Hernandez, (the Love & Rockets related comics), Fallen Angel (though I’m starting to get tired of it), Castle Waiting and Echo (the new comic from the author of Strangers in Paradise).

After talking with the guys, Doug and Brent, for a while I decided to wander up and down 4th Ave. in Kits. This is the trendoid yuppie area. I used to know it well when I worked there but it’s been maybe a year since I went into the shops. The Bath Shop was gone. So was one of kitchen shops. Both are now clothing stores. Other shops had come and gone and by the higher level of trendification I could tell the rents had had been substantially raised. I found a little craft store, a charity run for people with disabilities. They sell all sorts of handmade toys and sewn objects. There were some sock monkeys so I checked them out for Kij, who always needs a source for more. The woman there confirmed that the rents had shot so high that many people had to leave. The charity had shrunk to a smaller space to survive. I figure it’s only a matter of time before the Comicshop can’t afford the rent. 

I did go into Capers when I saw there were lovely cream yellow and deep purple gladiolas and bought some for my place. It was also fun to just walk along and look at the people and the way they act. I bought a top and then drove downtown to the laser eye clinic for my checkup.

One bad thing is that it’s during a workday and rush hour. I actually found some metered parking that wasn’t too far. As I was about to put money in, the meter the guy who collects the coins came by. I told him to go first and then joked that he could just give me the money. He said, I’ll give you some free time. How much do you need? I said an hour but realized afterwards I needed less. He popped my loonie through the parking meter twice and then gave it back to me. Thanks, meter guy.

Eyes are mostly doing what they’re supposed to though my midrange is still dragging. I go back in three months to see if that’s improved. When I got home, I parked the car and then walked up to the Drive to buy some food for me and the wee beast, and to get some cider for a friend’s barbecue in the evening. It was just too nice a day to stay inside. And considering the worry I still have over my mutant tooth, which is healing slowly and which they say I might now lose (I’ll look like hillbilly trash if that happens because I can’t afford $3000 for an implant…so I’m freaked), I wanted to enjoy the full day.

That’s why I went to the barbee and sat around talking to a few people. I haven’t been in a great mood of late, too stressed by money issues and boredom. My mental health day was just really pleasant and low key. Those little acts of generosity by the mechanic and the meter guy were uplifiting. When I finally got home I was going to write my 200 words but I fell asleep with the laptop on my lap.

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