Yoga and taichi classes are a few of a Centretown bookstore’s new innovations in an effort to “appeal to everyone” and compete with e-reads and mega-bookstores.
“It’s actually the same business, we’ve just rebranded,” says Michael Deyell, the new owner of After Stonewall, the two-decade old bookstore on Bank Street.
The store’s front window fogged with visitors squeezing in on its reopening night on Jan. 26. This was after a makeover hiatus between late December and Jan 22.
The ex-owner of After Stonewall, David Rimmer, was looking for someone to take over the business last summer. The business was earning less, partly because online books have become popular, Deyell says.
“David’s always felt it (the store) needed to change, it needed something new fused into it,” Deyell says.
Rimmer’s decision to sell the store coincided with Deyell’s plan to move his gallery, “fad: funktional art and design,” from Prince Edward County near Belleville to Ottawa, Deyell says.
The store’s name comes from a historic event that helped trigger the gay pride movement. Police in New York City raided into a gay male bar, the Stonewall Inn in 1969. Patrons rebelled and it became news.
Bookstores such as After Stonewall’s are necessary, Deyell says, because as more people identify themselves as GLBTQ, they need to know that literature available to them and “to tell them that it’s okay.”
On After Stonewall’s glass shelves sit woodworks, jewellry and ceramics organized by colour. Other works include abstract paintings, recycled rubber goods and12 flavours of chocolate from Ontario chocolatiers that have their own shelf.
At the end of the rectangular store are bookshelves encircling two plastic cream-white chairs and a coffee table. The books’ genres include coming-out relationships, young adult and fiction.
“The GLBTQ community, they can feel comfortable back here,” Deyell cites that as one of the reasons putting the books at the back end of the store.
Comfort is the key word for Deyell. “Having a book in my hand, wrapped up in a blanket in front of a fire place, with a glass of wine and some chocolate,” is the kind of experience he wants to provide, Deyell says.
“I think it’s inevitable that the (independent) bookstores are going to have to diversify,” says Ian Lee, a business strategy professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business.
Unlike clothing stores that are more immune from online rivals, small bookstores will not survive just by selling books, Lee says. For clothes, customers “want to touch it and see it on them in the changing room, you don’t have that issue with books.” Deyell says niche bookstores with consistent demand might be viable without changing its business model.
Change is what’s happening in After Stonewall. Sounds of drills chewing the wall occasionally echo from the basement, the floor which will hold art events and exercise classes starting around April.