During the week of April 1st it was reported in my hometown newspaper, the Guelph Mercury, that the downtown Guelph used bookstore Macondo Books was soon to close. No specific date was given. Opened in 1978 at 18 Wilson Street in downtown Guelph the bookstore occupies(d) one of the oldest buildings on one of the oldest streets in the city core - a two-floor mid-nineteenth century house/retail space of local white limestone and creaky wooden floors - kitty-corner from the new City Hall. Also, just north of the CN Rail overpass and downhill from the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady Immaculate, which dominates the entire downtown area from its perch on a hill. If there are ghost stories downtown - and I know there are a few - this is a place that deserves a specter. The area is a boutique-y area of fashion and curio shops, cafes, and at least one tattoo and piercing studio. It’s in the heart of downtown Guelph, so other things are in close proximity: the City Hall, the Public Library, old churches, the train station, Greyhound depot, Police Station, Farmer’s Market, Civic Museum, etc. The local university is just a couple kilometers due south. Students can take a city bus or simply walk.
I quite regret the shop’s closing. I began going there when I was in high school, in 1978, with my first girlfriend, 15-year-old Fiona. She and I discovered each other, fell in love and out of love surrounded by the aroma of old paper, ink, mildew, the sound of creaky wooden floors, and the heat balloon of old radiators that didn’t radiate beyond a meter. So for me Macondo Books is a powerful memory experience, a nest of sensations, not just a place to buy books.
The store’s demise is entirely for business reasons. With the internet and digital media it’s a simple matter that not enough people are buying printed books anymore. Or, at least, not used printed books, which to me are more valuable than new books. That doesn’t mean that those activities will become extinct under the feet of technology, only that a new, lower plateau has yet to be set. I suppose that in addition people’s reading habits can be blamed. Maybe there just aren’t enough readers or new readers anymore. Nurturing reading has always been the bane of educators, librarians and booksellers. A book is a life form. Books in concentration like what we find in libraries and bookstores approach spontaneous consciousness with increasing numbers.
Like any business, Macondo cannot survive on the off chance that someone will come in off the street to buy a book. A business needs repeat customers. I was a repeat customer, visiting the shop thousands of times in its 36-year history. Not always to buy a book. Sometimes just to look around and hang out, and think about the 15-year-old girl that still exists inside Fiona’s current 50-year old body. Most recently I was there in early March 2014 during a visit home. I was suspicious to see that there was a 50% off sale going on. After quipping with the owner that maybe she was just trying to shrink her inventory I made a purchase and wished I had the money (and the space) for at least one more (a hardcover Arden Complete Shakespeare). Then I regaled the owner with my tale of acquiring a facsimile of a Shakespeare First Folio in Tokyo. As a book person I knew she would appreciate such an anecdote.
Thankfully Macondo never went in for faddish crap like inserting comfortable easy chairs and providing coffee for people to sit and sip while they peruse the books. I hate that. It’s only about the books. Books everywhere, no sitting. With a huge inventory the store was always in excellent order, not disarray like Macleod’s Books in downtown Vancouver.
I am disappointed that a university town cannot support a store like Macondo. There are other used bookstores in Guelph. In the downtown core there is the relatively new Janus used bookstore across the street from the Public Library. It’s a small establishment, as Macondo was when it first opened. But the physical environment does not have the character of the antique building that Macondo occupies. And there is Sunrise Bookstore on Speedvale Avenue in a shopping plaza in the north of the city. It is by far the largest used bookstore in the area - unimaginable inventory running into the hundreds of thousands on site and in storage. But it is less accessible than Macondo. Maybe these shops are also experiencing the same kinds of business difficulty that killed Macondo. I hope not, anyway. Whenever I visit my hometown I regularly make the rounds of the used bookstores and thrift stores, and I always buy something. I might not be the biggest customer, but I am a loyal customer.
I wonder how Fiona is?