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
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
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
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.