Earlier this month, our correspondent Rachel Gerry chatted with Ian Donker, owner of Toronto’s Book City, about literary localism, selling what you love, and more. Read their conversation below.
Brick: Could you tell us a little bit about Book City?
Ian Donker: Book City is a family-run business. It will have been open forty years this coming September. We are a small community bookstore located within the neighbourhoods of Toronto.
Brick: Do you feel that you play an important role in the community?
Ian Donker: I would like to think so. We try to support local authors, and I think that’s probably our biggest thing. Obviously local community bookstores are a bit of a dying breed, so we are a little retro in that way, but it is the way we have always done business.
Brick: What do you think a small bookstore can do that a big one can’t?
Ian Donker: Small bookstores can have a more personalized approach to book-selling. We always try to hire book people, and they seem to stay for a very long time. We’re able to sell the books that we’ve read and liked, and that is really special. We have a relationship with the people who have shopped here for years and years.
Brick: Why do you believe that magazines and journals are important?
Ian Donker: From a purely business standpoint, they’re important because they create weekly and monthly foot traffic, the kind a book doesn’t. Magazines and journals get people in the door and into the store on a regular basis.
From a personal point of view, I think newspapers, magazines, and periodicals are incredibly important for everybody. They are a place for cultural expression and communicating ideas, political or other.
Brick: Do you think the magazine is surviving the digital age?
Ian Donker: It’s a lot like it is for books. There is always going to be an audience and a need for things in print. However, the audience, as we have seen, has shrunk because people can get news or information from different platforms now.
I hope at some point we can figure out how to create a situation where the online magazine is valued the same as the printed magazine, so there can continue to be professionalism within the publishing world.
Brick: What is your favourite publication in the store?
Ian Donker: As an owner of the shop I wouldn’t want to put favouritism to anything. There are many worthy publications, and we carry as many of them as possible.
Brick: Why do you think it’s important to support independent publishing?
Ian Donker: Independents tend to be at the forefront of new ideas, for one thing. Also, they’re less influenced by established ideas and pressures from other institutions. For these reasons, it’s very important to have a healthy independent publishing industry.
Brick: You mentioned that you like to support local authors: are there any titles that come to mind?
Ian Donker: We have done very well with the Giller Winner this year, Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis. This is a very local Toronto title, which has been fantastic.