Monday, July 13, 2009

Pages on Queen Street

"I guess Queen Street West is officially dead now" -- Rock 'n' Roll singer/published author Dave Bidini on the closing of Pages bookstore.

Bidini's perspective is entirely subjective, but I happen to agree with it. I was introduced to Queen Street West in 1983, as Toronto's punk/new wave scene was coming to a close. Back then the strip hosted record stores, vintage clothing stores, head-shops and "art galleries" that didn't often make the first month's rent. It seemed like every obscure nook was host to a used bookstore -- I could walk up and down QSW and never exhaust its literary troves.

Then there were the spiffy retail bookstores: Bakka Books, the first exclusively sci-fi bookstore I'd ever seen; The Silver Snail (comics); and Pages. Only The Silver Snail remains in its original location. If the stock is any indication, toys ("collectibles") now make up the bulk of its sales.

The strip has really "cleaned up" in the last quarter-century. The used bookstores are almost all gone, as are the record stores. There are still some vintage clothing shops, but mostly QSW hosts the sort of brand stores you'll find in any large mall. As a consumer, I now have one less reason for making the trip to downtown Toronto. So it goes -- once a locale becomes commercially viable, big commerce jumps in. The interesting neighborhoods move. But independent bookstores as a species are disappearing, and I have to wonder how that's changing the social-commercial discourse.

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