Glad Day, Canada’s oldest queer bookstore, will not be closing. For years, owner John Scythes had been sounding the alarm that he could no longer maintain the store and, earlier this year, he put it up for sale. While there were fears no one would make a sufficient offer and that Glad Day would end up the latest casualty for the city’s independent bookstores–rest in peace, Pages and the Book Mark–news went out yesterday that a coalition of investors purchased the store.
The investors haven’t laid out their plans to reboot Glad Day yet, except for a mandate to launch “initiatives to build community, foster creativity, support local artists and honour the importance of pleasure and love in our world.” Scythes himself hinted that tech would play a big role in the new store: “These new investors are full of energy and ideas, including ways to use new technologies.”
Technology has thus far had a damaging effect on Glad Day. Not only did the bookstore have to fend off online retailers like Amazon and new e-book formats eating into book sales, but it also saw sales of erotic materials dwindle with the establishment of an online porn culture. (On that point, Glad Day isn’t alone: the number of bathhouses in the Church-Wellesley Village, for example, have halved since the rise to prominence of online and mobile cruising. Think Grindr, think Scruff.)
The “new technologies” Scythes references likely includes a more robust online presence, but that alone would be too little too late. After all, with Glad Day’s constant threat of closure, many people knew about the bookstore and still didn’t care to shop there–Scythes told Xtra earlier this year that he only sold “a handful of books every day.” Clearly, the store can’t do what it’s already been doing but with a new coat of paint. To save Glad Day, the new owners will have to re-think the role of a bookstore, even if, paradoxically, it means no longer selling books.
Instead, the store could transform into an incubator space, providing the amenities of an office but in a comfortable, collaborative environment, and begin selling subscriptions. Incubators have popped up not only in Toronto but globally as more workers can increasingly work remotely. Nothing of the sort is available yet in the Church-Wellesley area, which would put Glad Day in the rare space of being ahead of the curve. Literature would still play a role at the new Glad Day as a source of inspirational and a chance to communally share an experience.
I’ll admit that an incubator would be a far reach from where the bookstore stands now, and the investors may be uncomfortable with such change. If Glad Day is to remain a retail space, at the very least, the new investors should consider diversifying what the store sells. The concept of queer culture has evolved and grown since the store opened, and Glad Day just hasn’t kept up to speed.
Take Scott Pilgrim, for example, the series of graphic novels with a number of queer characters and a relatively large queer fan base. I stepped into Glad Day at the height of summer 2010’s hype for the final book and was disappointed to not see it there. Not sad because I couldn’t buy it–I had already picked it up from The Beguiling on launch night and read it before I got home–but because I knew that if Glad Day stocked it and other similarly contemporary works, the store would sell more than just a handful of books a day.
I’m looking forward to hearing the investors unveil their new plans for Glad Day. Here’s hoping the historical significance of the bookstore doesn’t force them to feel beholden to the past. The new owners must know the difference between drawing influences from history versus sticking to what already exists: in the end, retro-inspired is infinitely better than living in the past.