How “A Different Booklist” changed Toronto (and not only through books)

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In “How A Different Booklist changed Toronto (and not only through books),” Amanda Parris (CBC Arts, 17 March 2016) focuses on a Toronto independent bookshop with a Caribbean/African focus that has sponsored community events, becoming a “multi-use hub,” and how it will have to close its doors and relocate. [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Here are excerpts:

Installation artist Leslie Hewitt recently reminded me of this fact: Black spaces like the First Baptist Church in Memphis — a community post office, church and civil rights leader Ida B. Wells’ headquarters — have been multi-use hubs for generations simply because of the historic limitations put on black bodies.

That legacy has been continued by A Different Booklist, the independent bookstore at 746 Bathurst St. in Toronto. For just over two decades, owners Itah Sadu and Miguel San Vincente have operated A Different Booklist as an organic hub. At the end of this year, the doors of 746 Bathurst will have to close, as the iconic Honest Ed’s building and neighbouring Mirvish Village strip now belong to Vancouver developers Westbank Projects. The plan is to demolish and redevelop the entire area into 1,000 rental residential units and a new public market.

When Sadu first learned of the impending dislocation, her heart sank. However, as she told me during an interview earlier this week, she quickly realized that with this rupture came an opportunity. “What [it] allowed us to do is see clear that we had outgrown the space that we are currently in. We were becoming comfortable with the space and sometimes with that comfort comes collapse.”

A Different Booklist was taken over by the husband and wife duo 17 years ago when former owner Dr. Wesley Crichlow decided to sell in order to pursue his academic career. Coming from the worlds of trade union organizing (San Vincente) and education/children’s book writing (Sadu), they sought out mentorship from peers and leaders in the community as they embarked on a new adventure — entrepreneurship. Famed journalist and editor Harold Hoyte told them, “Every single thing in the city that moves, the bookstore must be connected with it, because everything in the world has a book.” Those words helped to shape the strategy that informs their survival to this day. “We took on a physical place and people designed the space,” Sadu says.

Marked by its lime green exterior and its beautifully-curated window displays, community members came almost immediately to the store with requests to hold film nights, open mics, book launches and even weddings. The space quickly evolved into an organic hub that transcended the business of selling books. Beyond the events, A Different Booklist became a site for a less tangible kind of community support, such as referrals for seniors who couldn’t afford taxis to take them to the doctor, young people looking for intellectual resources to support their learning or writers seeking to develop their skills. The store became a space where elders would spend the day scouring through books, watching old Caribbean comedies, asking Sadu about her advice on retirement homes and sending her to get them food they shouldn’t be eating (often from the roti shop next door). [. . .]

In an age where independent bookstores in Toronto such as Pages Books & Magazines, Toronto Women’s Bookstore and This Ain’t the Rosedale Library have permanently closed their doors, Sadu credits A Different Booklist’s survival with its growth into a kind of cultural centre and hub for community. Sadu and San Vincente have always known that the location of A Different Booklist is as significant as the bookstore itself. Similarly to Eglinton West today, historically Bathurst and Bloor was the core of the Black Caribbean community in Toronto. Patty shops, barbershops, roti shops, record shops and beauty shops lined Bathurst Street.  Caribbean teenagers attended Central Technical School just south of Bloor and new immigrants would come in droves to visit Honest Ed’s, the temple of discounts and kitsch. [. . .]

For full article, see http://www.cbc.ca/beta/arts/exhibitionists/how-a-different-booklist-changed-toronto-and-not-only-through-books-1.3496301

For more about A Different Booklist, visit their website http://adifferentbooklist.com or Facebook page.

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