Pages’ demise shows there’s no downturn when it comes to rents on Queen West strip
If you were planning to buy all your art textbooks at Pages in September, you might want to push your purchase plans forward a few weeks.
As of August 31, the iconic Queen West bookstore with the edgiest windows in town will have written its final chapter.
Just a few days after the Scream Festival hosted its gravestone tour of the city’s lost independent bookstores, Pages owner Marc Glassman tells NOW his own doors are closing.
“It’s dire,” he says simply.
The writing was on the wall back in December 2008 when the 30-year-old shop announced it was facing almost-certain demise by February. Glassman got a break – a six-month extension of his lease – and hoped the recession would help cool the searing, soaring rent prices.
It didn’t. “Landlords seem to be recession-proof at this point,” he says. “They’re just keeping their prices up.”
Currently, Glassman figures he’s getting a good deal at $235,000 a year. But landlord Yoram Birenzweig, VP of Pinedale Properties, says the true market value at 256 Queen West is $100 a square foot – which my calculator tells me is $400,000 a year.
That’s not what he’s demanding Glassman pay, but even if they split the difference, it’s all too much for Pages.
Glassman keeps stressing his relationship with Birenzweig is genial and that he’s not getting screwed over.
“It’s life,” he says. “He appreciates what we’re doing, [but] for him, if you can, you should make more money,” he says.
Obviously straining to show goodwill, Birenzweig tells me that “the easiest thing for us to do is say goodbye Pages and bring in a McDonald’s.” Instead, he tried to help Glassman relocate and says he hasn’t given up hope that something can still be arranged as the dialogue continues. But the landlord admits rents haven’t gone down while retail sales likely have.
Realistically, Glassman doesn’t appear to be a desperate man crying wolf. He says he’s announcing the closure now to give customers some heads-up, but he does concede that a part of him dreams a white knight will show up and save the store.
The neighbourhood Pages will leave behind isn’t – and long hasn’t been – the one it helped forge. The store, which opened in 1979, is no longer part of a punk-inhabited art scene. The ‘hood’s long been ultra-FCUK-ed.
Some figured Pages was toast when Chapters opened one block south a decade ago. Instead, the shop built on a strong reputation in the indie press community.
“They were always very agreeable in terms of allocating a substantial chunk of their inventory to independent books,” says Jack Illingworth, executive director of Literary Press Group of Canada, which provides sales representation for more than 40 indie presses.
“Indigo is phenomenally good at selling the kinds of books that work for Indigo,” he says, mainstream fiction or cookbooks. But specialized tastes are marginalized by large-scale retailers.
“A diverse retail environment really benefits independent publishers and the authors that work through them,” and those publishing in niche genres like poetry, drama, cultural criticism and art will feel the loss of quirky shops like Pages the most.
If you check the stops on Scream’s dead indies tour – from Third World Books and Crafts to David Mirvish Books, Book Cellar, Longhouse Books and Britnell’s – you’ll see quickly what kind of bookish sensibilities have hit the dust.
Still, says Illingworth, we have plenty of independents left, like This Ain’t the Rosedale Library, which rescued itself by moving to Kensington, and Ben McNally.
Further good news is that Glassman’s This Is Not A Reading Series (TINARS) will live on. The six-year-old launching pad for many local authors will actually be bigger in the fall.
“We’ll include second acts to make a kind of multicultural cabaret,” he says, adding that the recently formed non-profit Force for Cultural Enterprises will be eligible for arts grants.
You can tell this isn’t how Glassman wanted to go out. He doesn’t hide the fact that he won’t be leaving on a gravy train, but he says, “If we’ve made an impact on the city, that’s wonderful. To have done this for 30 years has been my joy and pleasure.”