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John Rose's Web Site

     John Rose has been a bookseller for more than thirty-five years. In March 2003, he sold his bookstore, BAKKA, the premiere Canadian science fiction bookstore.
     He has been savouring his new leisure time, doing some travelling, making extended canoe trips through Algonquin Park, and learning to run long distances.
     With a view to increasing his skill set, he has been taking a series of computer graphic and web graphics courses through Ted Snell, from New Media Content.

    In 2005 he ran his first and second marathons.

John Rose writes:

     I began my career in bookselling with my first job at the Simpson's Book Department in 1974, on Yonge Street in the heart of Toronto's business district. The large downtown department store, now folded into the Hudson's Bay Co., gave me my first taste of bookselling and I was hooked.

    I moved from there to a series of jobs in small, independent bookstores, starting with Robert Buckley's Books on Yonge Street at Eglinton, in 1976, followed by Bluewater Books in Greenwin Tower and the Sheraton Centre. From there I moved to Toronto's foremost independent chain of stores, The Book Cellar, when the chain was managed by Colin Caldwell. I worked at the prestigious Yorkville Avenue store, then moved to the Charles Street store as a Mass Market (Paperbacks) book buyer, and finally became Assistant Manager for the Delisle Court store in the fall of 1977. In its time, no bookstore in Canada had a greater influence on the book trade in Canada, and to a lesser extent in the US, as former staff moved into all facets of bookselling, publishing and distribution.

    In 1979, I moved to become Store Manager of BAKKA, the science fiction bookstore, in its old location on Queen Street West. After almost a year working there, I was able to buy the store from its owners, and the third stage of my bookselling career began. BAKKA was eight years old when I bought it, and I owned it for the next twenty-two years. I enjoyed the company of excellent staff and customers for many years, served the Canadian Bookseller's Association for three years, and capped it all by publishing an anthology of short stories to commemorate BAKKA's thirtieth anniversary.

    I met with a good measure of success as an owner, and saw the business grow from a small well-known genre store to become one of the handfull of truly great specialty stores in bookselling. But the nineties brought new challenges. Publishing became concentrated in the hands of a few multinational corporations, changing the face of popular media forever. The federal government introduced a tax on books that crippled the industry. The evil that was to become Chapters, and later Indigo, was born. And the landlord declined to renew our lease and the store was forced to move, after twenty-six years in the same location.

    The new store on Yonge Street succeeded but struggled in the face of concentrated competition from the empire formed when Smithbooks bought out Coles Books; together, they formed a single entity dedicated to eliminating all competing bookstores in Canada. The rise of the box stores and their domination of the marketplace so soured the economic climate in the nineties that I lost my taste for independence and the genre. I sold the store in March, 2003.

     There's a certain irony, then, to my re-entry position into bookselling: part-time sales clerk in the Bay/Bloor Indigo, one of the largest bookstores in Canada, and part of an indie-killing monster chain. I did have the pleasure of working with people whom I consider to be among the best booksellers I've ever encountered, in the belly of an impersonal, regimented, books-as-product sales environment, one that embodies both the very best and very worst of the bookselling world.

     In September of 2005, I moved from the hyper-managed vastness of the biggest bookstore in Canada, to a friendly neighbourhood small-chain bookstore in Bloor West Village. I had met Frans Donker many times at CBA functions and publishing events; when he offered me a job at one of his stores, I was honoured. In Book City, I found myself once again working (full-time) for an eccentric but passionate bookseller. And poets!

But now (2014) it appears that the end of my vocation is near. Retail sales for bookstores have steadily declined in the past 5 years, and Toronto has lost most of its independents, as well as several of the big chain locations, to rent increases and competition from online sellers. Book City itself has closed two locations in two years, and now, I find myself reduced to part-time status. No new stores are opening to fill the void and it looks like the face of bookselling, and with it publishing, has changed forever.

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