Tim Carson, proprietor of Carson Books and Records (4275 Dunbar), had already gone through the unpleasant experience of shutting down a store, that being his first location at 3425 West Broadway, which closed down after 20 years in August 2012. He cites a “combination of factors” in the hard times being faced by new and used book dealers.
“There’s the availability of knowledge on the Internet,” he tells the Straight from his Dunbar Street location, which will be closing sometime in the New Year. “Before, you wanted to learn about ancient China, you went to the library or you went to a used bookstore and bought a book on ancient China. Now, if you’re just dabbling, you can go on the Internet and find out what you’re interested in, without even paying any money, other than your monthly Internet bill. So that’s one thing. The other thing is the ready availability of buying books online,” with companies like Amazon cutting into sales. “And then the nail in the coffin was e-readers, Kindle and such. I remember the year, maybe three or four years ago, that everyone got them for Christmas presents. My January sales were down dramatically compared to the previous January.”
High property taxes and a younger generation that are less oriented toward reading also don’t help, he notes. The situation is such that when he discovered his block was up for redevelopment, he strongly considered simply retiring. “I’m going to be turning 60. If I were 65, I don’t think I would have hesitated to retire; in fact, I was leaning in that direction, and I told quite a few people that was likely what I was going to do, but I thought I would check around and see what was available in terms of retail. I was getting very discouraged at what I was seeing, in terms of how expensive these dumpy little stores were. And then I stumbled across this store on Main Street that was reasonable rent and a great location.”
That location, alas, is the former site of the latest Vancouver video-rental store to bite the dust, They Live Video (formerly Cinephile Video, at 4340 Main Street). Serving its neighbourhood under one set of owners or another since 1997, it’s a shop that will be sorely missed by its more devoted customers.
“Obviously, financially, it’s becoming less and less feasible to run a video store,” co-owner Daniel Shimizu tells the Straight, behind the counter with business partner Ben Jacques. The two took over from Cinephile Video in 2011. “It’s obviously something we’ve been putting a lot of time and effort into, but as we see fewer regular customers coming back in, and as our outside interests increase, it’s harder to invest the amount of time a shop like this needs to run properly.” He sees Netflix as one obvious source of competition, but also “Shaw On Demand, which is a more surprising thing. New releases have always been a big chunk of our business, and one of the things we noticed was the new-release rentals going down. Our older clientele have obviously just discovered that they can PVR something or get it on-demand.”
Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, Ben Jacques—whose other job is in the film industry, at an animation studio—adds. “Online is good, I like it, I totally am for it, but what we were doing was curating something that people couldn’t get” easily otherwise. He’s not sure people appreciate the value of having expert knowledge or a hand-picked stock anymore, at least when it comes to movies. “People just didn’t realize the importance of that, of the heart and soul people put into something like this. They just probably feel like there’s no need for it.”
The plan to give up the location has been stewing for some time, but Shimizu was very happy to be approached by Carson Books and Records. “We had options—one was the yoga studio next door to us, and there were higher money people, like restaurants and whatnot, but at the end of the day, we didn’t want to see our shop replaced with just a sporting goods store or something. I’m definitely happy to keep it cultural.”
While They Live regulars will be hurting from the absence of a cool curated stock of videos to choose from, videophile sharks, sensing blood in the water, have been descending on the store all week, hunting for videos for their own personal collections. “Our directors and world section have obviously been picked over quite a bit,” Shimizu acknowledges. “The stuff that we’re left over with is a lot of our genre stuff—comedy, drama, action, sci-fi sort of stuff. Our general catalogue, we will be blowing out for five movies for $5,” come Tuesday, with “tons of hidden gems,” and a few higher-priced collector’s items. They figure to be closed out before week’s end.
Carson, meanwhile, plans to be open at the location in mid January, and is having his own close-out sale on Dunbar. “At this time, it’s 20 percent off, buy three or more books get 30 percent off, and with records, it’s the same, only if you get five or more records its 40 percent off.”
Carson plans to focus on selling “quality literature” and his “huge backlog” of jazz and other vinyl at the new store, once it opens, he says. He hopes that the proliferation of culturally oriented businesses on that stretch of Main—including Y’s Books, Red Cat Records, and the newest Book Warehouse to open, since the chain was taken over by Black Bond Books—will turn the area into a destination for people still fond of physical media.
“When Black Swan was closing down [in Kitsilano], people were saying, ‘I guess you’re happy about that, it’s less competition,’ and I said, ‘No, I’m unhappy about it because they were a draw for record collectors to come to this area!’ If Main Street didn’t have that culture, I don’t know if I would be moving there,” Carson says, “but the people who shop on Main, I think, are going to be good book-and-record customers.”