Cadboro Bay Book Company owner Patricia Jutras will retire for the second time when she closes the community staple on Jan. 27. While some personal reasons sparked her decision, the decline of book sales also had an effect.
Jutras is the store’s fifth owner since it opened 30 years ago on Cadboro Bay Road. She bought the bookstore in 2010 from a fellow book club member who wanted to sell it. Already retired at the time, Jutras took on the venture because of her love of books.
“I have to admit, I was definitely one of those people who had a very romantic idea about a bookstore,” she says. “I couldn’t imagine anything more wonderful than being in a place where there are books, and you can be with them all day long and talk to people about them.”
It’s no secret that the book industry is evolving, from how people are buying their books — online and at big discount department and warehouse stores like Costco and Walmart — to how they are reading them: via e-readers and tablets. Not surprisingly, the challenge for small bookstores to compete has gotten tougher.
Jutras often catches people in her store taking photos of a book they want with their smart phones to capture the book’s title and author. They then leave to order the book elsewhere for cheaper, presumably on Amazon.com, which is typically the go-to web destination for book buyers.
“People do that for a reason: because they love books. I can understand on a practical side of things: if you can get a book at a cheaper price, you can buy two books,” says Jutras.
In the earlier stages of trying to save the business, she adopted the if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em approach and began offering free Wi-Fi in the store so that patrons could use their cellphones to check book reviews on Amazon.
“It wasn’t as big as I thought it might be. I did find probably more often than not that people were checking their email and other things rather than utilizing it for book reviews,” says Jutras.
For economic reasons, Jutras expects the future of the book business will include the disappearance of small bookstores. Still, she says, you can’t put a price on the bookstore experience that people miss out on by going to more affordable outlets.
“I have a lot of customers who come in just to talk,” says Jutras. “When it’s in a community like this, it’s sort of a community space, and sometimes people come in and they’re waiting to get their tire changed at the garage,” she says. “Everyone is very sad about it [closing]. People feel a piece of the past is going to disappear, so that is a sad thing for sure.”
Even locals planning to purchase on Amazon go to Cadboro Bay Books to talk to the sales associate for opinions and reviews, despite all the reviews available on the Amazon website.
“My feeling is that all the Amazon reviews don’t really reflect the same kind of evaluation you get when you talk to somebody [in person] who has read the book,” says Jutras.
Despite all the changes happening in publishing and bookselling, she estimates around 10 independent bookstores are still in business in Victoria, including Russell Books, Munro’s Books, Ivy’s Bookshop and Chronicles of Crime.
“I think bookstores that are successful are doing a lot of different things. I can’t speak for any of those bookstores, but it seems to me that perhaps [they are] selling sale books, bargain books and used books maybe as well,” says Jutras.
Some bookstores have sales on popular books all the time, which is difficult for smaller bookstores to do, says Jutras, because there is not enough traffic to support the volume of purchases needed to make a profit on those books.
Jutras advertised the selling of her bookstore nationally, including in the business section of the Globe and Mail, and got several inquiries from the East Coast. Those who inquired liked the idea of moving to Victoria to own a bookshop, but in the end, the income wasn’t good enough for them to make an offer.
“You have to do it for the love of books versus for a substantial income,” says Jutras, who hopes to see a business offer to take over the space soon, whether it is a bookstore or something else, so that she doesn’t have to see it empty. She leases the space, but is willing to sell her business based on the value of her inventory.
“The perfect person to buy the bookstore would be a retired librarian, male or female, who had won the lottery and just wanted to spend their days in the bookstore with lovely books, talking to people about books, and could use their lottery winnings to support them,” she jokes.