A life-long love affair with independent book stores

By Jessika Diamond

I love books.

I think it’s genetically bred into me, with my family having sold books for more than a century.

In July 1810, Louis, King of the Netherlands, forced Jews to take family names, and like many of our Gentile neighbours, we took names related to our trades. The name my great-greats chose?

14152220_10153623993131537_731515202_o“Boekman.”

Thanks to anti-Jewish legislation prohibiting the owning of businesses in the Netherlands during World War II, my grandmother sold the bookstore to a family friend. My mom still lived above it until she moved to Canada, making me and my sisters the first generation of descendants not to grow up in the family bookstore since the mid-19th century.

Not that we haven’t done our best to duplicate this environment at home – my mom had close to 6,000 books when I was growing up, and I myself have a few floor-to-ceiling shelves double-stacked.

Due to this particular family history, my loyalty has always been to independent stores. They don’t have the volume sales to offer insane discounts on the selected (read: generally overstocked and badly-selling) books, but you can’t beat the selection or the customer service.

If I go to a chain and ask for something by my favourite fantasy author, they’ll have the latest few books from her and maybe one or two of her earlier works. Bakka Phoenix (84 Harbord St, Toronto), on the other hand, has just about every book this author ever wrote. This is especially true if the author is new to you but has been around for a while: don’t even bother with a chain. You’ll only be able to buy bits and pieces of a series.

I have an acquaintance who writes a mystery series that takes place in San Francisco. Her stuff’s not a huge seller, and I’ve looked into Chapters to find it – they had only her latest. Sleuth of Baker Street (907 Millwood Rd, Toronto), the mystery bookstore, however, has her work front and centre in the new releases.

Before every move, I purge my book collection to get it back down to a “manageable” 2,000 titles. I generally do this by selling books to second-hand bookstores. In my latest purge, I brought books to BMV (multiple locations; I chose 471 Bloor W, Toronto). I walked in with four boxes of books and walked out with nearly $200.

They opened and checked the spine of every book, buying only the ones with few-to-no cracks in the spine. They only buy books in good quality, which means they only sell books in good quality. They pay $1 and up for each book, and their prices to buy are reasonable. If I can spend $5 to buy a two-year-old, almost-new book at a second-hand store, versus spending $11.99 for a new copy at a large chain, I know where I’m going.

I’m a big fan of excellent customer service. In my experience, most of the employees I deal with at chain stores are simply employees – decent and knowledgeable about their section, yet that’s about it. I’ve lost track of how many times an employee at a second-hand or independent store has bent over backwards for me, taking time to specially order books of a genre that’s completely outside their wheelhouse, going to the back and searching, calling me on their day off to tell me that the store couldn’t order X book but they found it at another independent in town for me…

After all this writing about independent bookstores… I think I know where I will be going shopping today!

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14248947_10153636288831537_1741204463_Jessika Diamond is a senior event manager working in the green building industry. A life-long reader who still favours paper over e-books, especially since she reads in the bath, she’s even been known to bring books on dates (though in all fairness, that started when she was dating a firefighter who often got called out on fires during dates). She also listens to e-books when she drives or walks, and vehemently avoids those “What fictional reality should you live in?” quizzes because she wants to experience ALL of them.