Should we preserve Toronto business institutions?
While I was out at the Toronto Women’s Bookstore recently reading from my new book Hip Hop World, and asking some very tough questions about race, gender, globalization and youth culture, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread when the employee at the store informed me that the store’s doors may be shut by the time summer rolls around.
The idea of yet another crucial institution falling by the wayside does not sit easily with me. My definition of "institution" might fall loosely outside the textbook definition, but it involves time-honoured venues with a social purpose that have profound impacts on large groups of citizens.
I don’t have the space in this blog to list the large numbers of authors, thinkers, feminists and activists who have benefitted over the last 3+ decades from the Bookstore hosting events, readings, and engaging Toronto’s Creative Class to do more good. Are we going to now add this bookstore to a long and growing list of socially relevant not-for-profits with a deep, rich history that go under without a fight?
It’s the Toronto Women’s Bookstore. And this plea is coming from an African-Canadian man who sees the value of having a venue where mostly female writers and thinkers, including ones from racialized groups can get a chance, get some proper shelf space, more respect.
I’ve seen others bookstores and pop culture fare in my immediate community go six feet under - Third World Bookstore, 28 Lennox – and still other more mainstream-y venues like Sam the Record Man, Pages Bookstore – and I can truly report that too many of the things that make Toronto unique, in a liberal, progressive, all-inclusive, multi-culti kinda way have either fallen by the wayside, or are threatening to, as the gaps between the have and have-nots widens.
We make claims, often, of being this world-class cosmopolitan city. But where’s the political will to assist and help preserve these institutions that make Toronto unique?
Hey, I love H&M’s and Home Depot as much as the next working class guy, but some of these businesses that have taken the place of older buildings and businesses that are the living evidences of communities that make Toronto somewhat interesting, that work to conserve our cultural heritage, are contributing to the McDonaldization of my city. And Mickey D’s menu needs much tweaking.
Independent entrepreneurs in the city’s downtown core need better tax breaks, more incentives to help them navigate their dreams through a nasty gentrification that has driven large aspects of many lesser-off communities to the ‘burbs. There’s dollars and cents, and then there’s dollars and sense.
Is there some way to establish some piece of legislation to help preserve, for the benefit of the city, select venues of historic, traditional or artistic interest? Am I appealing to a venture capitalist of any political persuasion to come help save the day?
Can the fine folk at City Hall (or any arm's length investors with sway that might hang around in the shadows at 100 Queen St. West) please weigh in on this?