hazel on books 

By Loreth Beswetherick The mood was bleak and there was an atmosphere of caution. "I think they were in a state of shock." Those are the words of Whistler’s independent bookstore owner Hazel Ellis, just back from a Canadian booksellers’ convention in Toronto. She said the news of the financial woes facing Vancouver’s Duthie’s Books is still having a ripple effect throughout the industry. Ellis, who has owned Armchair Books in Whistler Village since 1982, said there were far fewer booksellers from the West represented at the event this year than there usually are and the Duthie affair was on everyone’s minds and lips. The second-generation Duthie’s Books of Vancouver recently filed for bankruptcy protection and in a flurry of media attention became symbolic of a generic battle between independent bookstores and corporate giants like Chapters and Indigo. The battle is not new and it is not uniquely Canadian. The claim, however, is that the Duthie downfall serves to illustrate the threat American-style consumerism — or economic imperialism — poses to Canada’s cultural identity. But America’s independent booksellers are also crying out for help — all over the internet. The electronic message is that book selling is supposed to be about the dissemination of ideas in a culture and concentrating the distribution of books in the hands of a few large corporations gives them a powerful veto on ideas that may lack commercial appeal. Booksellers are supposed to have their own unique sensibilities rooted in the communities they serve. "It’s a growing trend," said Ellis of the economic globalization. "It’s a fact of life these days and, it’s no different for other businesses, like the hardware store across the way. Customers seem to like the one-stop concept." She said the message out of the Toronto convention was simply; "do what you are best at, concentrate on your strong points and hope that your customers remain loyal." Ellis said companies like Chapters and Indigo are "very aggressive" with publishers and it is tough to compete with price slashing. "We simply can’t get the buying privileges." In fact, some publishers aren’t interested in publishing a work if Chapters or Indigo aren’t interested in stocking the book. But Ellis is not worried about Armchair Books. Whistler, again, plays the exception to the rule. "It really doesn’t affect me as much as it would if I were in another location. I am somewhat cushioned with the tourist volume." Ellis said her trade in the last year was about 70 per cent tourist and 30 per cent local. That is a change from the usual 60 per cent tourist, 40 per cent local. The Canadian dollar is attractive and the tourists have the cash to splash, said Ellis. "That helps, fortunately for me." Visitors are not after a fluffy vacation read either. "The tourists are educated and are very good readers." Ellis said she has international tastes to satisfy and interest is high for non-fiction works. They are buying history books — both Canadian and world history — and biographical and reference works, depending on current events, said Ellis. The interests of Whistlerites also run the gamut she said. "The local population, the lifties, the transients — they are all very good readers and well educated," said Ellis. A lot of her local trade includes special orders and children’s books. "The mood in Toronto was quite a contrast," said Ellis. "I hear a lot of favourable, upbeat comments in Whistler." Armchair has also come out of an especially good winter season. "I don’t think any Whistler retailer is singing the blues right now." And, Ellis is crossing her fingers that things don’t change too much. She certainly doesn’t see the big bookstore chains eyeing Whistler. "I’m not concerned. They won’t pay the rent," she said. Her only competition right now comes from Bestsellers — which sells the top 15 to 20 CDs, videos and books — and Pharamsave and the Grocery Store which both sell paperbacks. "I am extremely sorry about Duthie’s. They had a real community presence... that type of commitment is hard to replace," she said. "They overextended, there is no doubt. They took on too much but, who could have foreseen?"

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