Tuesday, January 29, 2008

98th Post - Goodbye to The Book Room!

Heard on the news tonight that The Book Room is going to close soon, after nearly 170 years of business in Halifax.

They have cited a few reasons for closing. Big box stores, heavy discounting where books are available below cover price at places like grocery stores and drug stores, online sales, and the high Canadian dollar, which closed slightly above par with the American dollar today.

Even though the Canadian dollar has been doing so well, the price of books is still expressed in Canadian funds as the dollar was a few years ago. This can mean quite a difference in price between the American price, and the Canadian one. Canadians have complained loud and long about this one, and have taken it out on the bookstores, when it is not their fault. They charge what the Canadian price is. And since it's Canada, it's not like they're going to accept American currency as payment.

Some Canadian bookstores, the ones with deep pockets, offer all kinds of discount options that the independent booksellers like the Book Room cannot afford to provide. Consumers will go toward the lower prices nearly every time. Why pay more? Get the cheaper price. I know I usually do.

I think there is another reason why this store is closing. They moved to Barrington Street around 1995, 96. For several decades they were on Granville Street, a couple of blocks away. That store, the one they abandoned, was a huge, sprawling, wonderful place that was a pleasure to shop and browse in. The newer one was much smaller, more "cozy" in a bad way, and I have never felt as comfortable in it.

They dramatically downsized when they moved to Barrington Street. And the quality of the merchandise hasn't been as good in the last couple of years. I can point to several paperback books that have been on those shelves for 18 months or longer. "Black Dahlia: Avenger" is a so-called true crime book that was discredited about 5 minutes after it was published. Yet, when I was in the Book Room a couple of weeks ago, that book was still sitting there in the true crime section, pages yellowing with age, with a kind of plaintive look that said, "Look, I know the theory expressed in this book is bull pucky, but buy me anyway before this store goes the way of the dodo!"

I know they are still getting in new books, or at least were up to today, but the days of the Book Room being a cool place to buy books were over several years ago. I am sorry to see it go, but better to go with some dignity, and its head held high, than to have it stumble and lose any competitive advantage it may have left.

Damn shame to see another new bookstore leave the downtown. There aren't many left.

What is your favourite bookstore in Halifax?

Two posts to #100. Getting excited yet?


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