Chapters on the corner of Ste. Catherine and Stanley in downtown Montreal isn’t just closing anymore. It’s all the way gone, shuttered and empty – soon to be replaced by the second largest Victoria’s Secret outlet in the world. Because sex sells. Oh, I’m sure Chapters moved its fair share of copies of Fifty Shades of Grey, but that’s nothing compared to the mark-up to be had on the lacy contraptions ladies wear next to their most private of parts. Thoreau can’t compete with a thong. That’s a fact.
People have been quick to point to this as a sign of the demise of the physical bookstore and the dominance of ebook sales online. The numbers don’t bear this out – not yet at least – but that’s the conclusion many will jump to. In reality, the loss of this cornerstone of Montreal book sales has more to do with mishandling, a confused business model, a hobbyist approach to management, and a foolhardy attempt at monopoly. The whole sordid tale is a matter of public record for those who wish to dig beyond the surface of a fanciful comedic blog, but if you look at the provided photo closely enough, you’ll see a key piece of evidence.
It’s there on the second level of the three storeys (plus basement) that housed Chapters. Those are café tables you can see through the windows. I knew it was the beginning of the end years ago when so much of the floor space was devoted to seating and the selling of coffee instead of books. The idea was that customers were welcome to sit down – for hours if they wished – and read books for free as they sipped coffee. Does that sound charming to you? Well, it sounds idiotic to me. It means if you shopped there, you were buying supposedly new books at new book prices that had been pawed at and sipped over by freeloading hipsters who couldn’t even be trusted with a library card. If I want dog-eared, manhandled books that have been eyeballed to death by strangers, I’ll go to a second-hand bookshop and buy a scarcer, more interesting edition for a fraction of the price.
The space wasn’t always a Chapters, but it’s been a bookstore my entire life. I’ve attended launches and readings there, bought many books, discovered many authors. I’d lament it more, but these days I can browse online, find just about anything I want in or out of print, and have it delivered to my door with free shipping within a few days, often less. I can’t say I miss swinging by in person, hunting through the various sections, trying to guess if the author I’m looking for qualifies as a wordsmith worthy of the literature section or has been dismissed as just another hack and delegated to one of the genre ghettos, and then finding they have copies of all his other books, just not the one I need.
Once the café idea was introduced, it didn’t take long for much of the rest of the store to get clogged up with all sorts of other merchandise that had little, nothing, or absolutely zero to do with books. It would never occur to me to go to a bookstore for candles, or a clock, or some goddamn gift basket. I think towards the end they were gambling on impulse purchases by making the cash counter a maze of shit you don’t need but might buy on a whim. They rolled the dice (on sale, half-off, aisle four, next to Dickens) and they lost.
At least if I’m looking for music, there’s still HMV across the street – if I can find which corner they swept the music into. The last time I was there, I almost had to stop one of the staff to ask them if they sold anything other than DVD movies, bobbleheads and novelty pint glasses.
On the subject of books I’ll be appearing in, but will never be for sale at the downtown Chapters location, there’s been some news.
The release of Locked and Loaded: Both Barrels Vol. 3, with my story “Young Turks and Old Wives,” has been pushed back to a February 17th release for technical reasons, and has been renamed Shotgun Honey Presents: Locked & Loaded for branding purposes. No cover yet, but I’m going to make a bold guess that the final imagery will include a lady with an eyepatch and a shotgun – loaded of course.
The cover for The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir has been revealed. Still subject to change, it might not be the final version that will arrive on bookshelves. But if this is what they go with, it will instantly become THE single most homoerotic cover my work has ever appeared under. Or maybe I just have a dirty mind. Given the name of my story is “Choke the Chicken” (I’ll mention that this is an old and popular euphemism for male masturbation in case you’re one of the rarified innocents) perhaps I do. Still, I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb mentioning that guns are often phallic symbols and the dude on the cover is puckering up for something.
Oh? He’s just blowing gun smoke out of the barrel?
Of course he is.
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