Sunday, August 30, 2009

Farewell, Pages Books

I just visited Pages on Queen Street West (Toronto) for the last time. This amazing bookstore is going out of business tomorrow (August 31, 2009). (There's also a Pages in Calgary, which seems to be still in operation.)

The Toronto Pages has long been one of my two favourite local bookstores (the other is Bob Miller). In fact, I'd rank Pages up there with City Lights in San Francisco.

Pages was a lot like City Lights -- a funky little store with lots of good but hard-to-find items from small presses. This Toronto institution opened in 1979. I probably first visited it in around 1983, when, with some high-school friends, I'd ride the commuter rail into the city from my remote suburb (Pickering). We'd head straight for coolsville, which back then was on Queen Street West, especially the strip between Bathurst and Spadina. That's where you could see more punk and new-wave hairstyles than anywhere else in the city. The main draw for us back then was the Bakka science-fiction bookstore (where Cory Doctorow, another Pages fan, once worked), which has since re-located. I agree with the proprietor, Marc Glassman, when he says that Pages is "definitely one of the last examples of the indie hub in the neighbourhood, and one of the bulwarks keeping any kind of original spirit in the area.”

I've enjoyed more quality browsing in Pages over the years than at any other commercial venue, and I've acquired from this little store what seems like a supertanker's worth of cards, stationery, magazines and of course books. Oh, what great books! Fiction, history, philosophy, biography, travel, etc. etc. Books that I couldn't find anywhere else, books that I didn't know I wanted till I'd examined them at Pages, books by authors I hadn't heard of till I found them here. The store had real educational value for me and, remarkably (in view of its relatively small size), continued to do so even after the advent of the internet book behemoths.

It was sad today to see the mostly barren shelves, almost like seeing a cherished home after the furniture's been taken by the movers. I'm going to miss this store, and I'll miss the great music they played -- the alternative or punky-but-not-really-punk music (sorry, I'm not up on the genre labels) that I generally couldn't identify but instantly loved. The music wasn't piped in or programmed by some consultant. The man at the cash register today told me that it was always left to whoever was on shift to determine what music to play.

Pages was a great literary experience. The city is diminished by its loss.

There's a send-off party for Pages at the Gladstone Hotel on September 8.

I'm a terrible photographer, but I've included the pics I took today, including a shot of my favourite section ('Small Press').

Update (Sept. 3, 2009): Here's another post on the demise of this great store.

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