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Bulletins From the Book Trade: The Richmond Chapters Anti-Reader Fin

I walked out of a Japanese restaurant in Richmond, B.C. the other night—it was one of those robotized restaurants the municipality’s Chinese majority are fond of because it sends sushi around on a conveyor belt—and found myself standing in front of the Richmond Chapter’s Superstore.

This happens to be the store that best typifies the start-up strategies the chain employed in its early days, having opened this one in a city where less than 50 percent of the population reads English as an everyday cultural practice. Chapters opened the store solely to kill off a couple on independents who were already hanging by their fingernails due to the demographic and ethnic shifts in the Vancouver suburb over the last 20 years. The strategy worked, but the store has been empty of customers since the day after its opening–as it deserves to be. I’d imagine it is near the top of the list of stores Chapters/Indigo has targeted for closing in its bid to achieve solvency.

The store is now a perfect illustration of the Chapters/Indigo recovery strategy: the magazines are gone, the reader-friendly furniture removed in favour of displays of candles and other bric-a-brac that are so widely spaced you could play hockey between the aisles and islands within the store without fear of damaging the store merchandise. When I looked in the store window, I couldn’t see a single customer even though it was 7:30 P.M. on a Friday night. As I was taking in the above details, my companion began to giggle. I though he was laughing because the store was so empty, but that wasn’t it.

“Take a look at the windowsill,” he said.

Along the length of the storefront was a low windowsill about 15 inches above the store’s floor, and about eight inches deep. From the edge of the glass a broad, tapered flange, about ½ inch thick at the base and probably made of wood or fibreglas, jutted up at 45 degree angle.

“What is that thing?” I asked.

“When they removed the magazines and the chairs and the other leisure furniture,” he told me, “customers began to sit on the windowsill to do the in-store reading they’d become accustomed to. After a month or so, this thing appeared. I guess the store manager didn’t want people sitting down while they read their, uh, candles…”

Hard to think of a more dramatic—or ludicrous—illustration of what Chapters/Indigo is about today than this store.

420 w. November 5, 2003

Lockheed’s new e-mail address is glockheed@rogers.com

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Gordon Lockheed

Gordon Lockheed

Gordon Lockheed is a hard-to-find Toronto writer and the editor of www.dooneyscafe.com

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