Nine months after 22 investors saved Canada’s first queer-driven bookstore from imminent closure, Yonge Street’s Glad Day Bookshop has become a place for good nights.
Last Sunday, I found myself at a book launch in a third-floor loft space on a stretch of Yonge Street just outside the Village, overlooking the adult department store Seduction. We were toasting the literary debut of the electrifyingly creative illustrator-cum-musician Trevor Campbell, who just released 35 Salisbury Lane, a quirky collection of photographs and interviews that chronicle the goings-on of fictional tenants in an apartment building. (He had me with the character of the “onion-eating arts blogger.”) It’s a self-produced project, with an imaginative spirit matched only by the event’s setting, a place backed by people who believe in artists like Campbell and the collective legacy their works leave behind.
Almost nine months ago, Glad Day Bookshop, Canada’s first bookstore targeted to the gay community, was about to close its doors—until it was saved by a group of citizen investors. They’ve since turned a chapter in Toronto queer history, making Glad Day a place for very memorable nights.
Last December, when former owner John Scythe announced that the shop would be put up for sale, high-school English teacher Michael Erickson started a campaign to engage friends and allies from every corner of his Toronto network to invest in the project. “Since it’s an institution and an incredible resource for the community, [Erickson] decided that we should save the bookshop,” says Andy Wang, who needed little persuasion to became one of the 22 people (from white collar to creative class) who bought shares in the company. Wang also acts as the shop’s CFO and event booker. Since this re-incarnation, Glad Day has become a fiercely community-driven initiative, says Wang. “Having a lot of people involved is good for having connections all over.” With so much added outreach, the social calendar has become the backbone of its new direction.
Jearld Moldenhauer opened Glad Day Bookshop in 1970 out of his Annex apartment and, in 1981, it landed at its current location at 598A Yonge. (Moldenhauer later opened a Boston branch of store, and he also started The Body Politic, a seminal queer publication.) With the closing of other legendary shops in San Francisco and New York City, Glad Day became the last veritable torchbearer.
Erickson, Wang and co. wanted desperately for the shop to survive, and, in keeping up with the Indigos, the idea of holding events and launches became crucial to the business model. It was a way of enticing new customers to get acquainted with and raise the profile of the shop—fast. Erickson asked the landlord, who was renovating the unused third floor at the time, if the team could rent the space. “It was modelled after our specifications,” Wang proudly explains, as he walks me through Glad Day’s vast collection of everything from thoughtful memoirs to DVDs to vintage erotica.
Upstairs, I overhear a woman say, “Like, what is this? Are we in Trevor’s apartment?”
It’s easy to see why she says that. The result of the renovation was a charming multi-use loft space, with a bathroom, a kitchenette, and glorious hardwood floors. It’s like the most perfect bachelor apartment you’ve ever seen, with standing room for up to 100 guests, making it expansive, yet intimate. And with rentals starting at $20 per hour, it’s a bloody steal. Its availability spread quickly by word-of-mouth. Campbell says he immediately thought of using the space after visiting for a friend’s launch.
Under the new Glad Day collective, the third floor has hosted countless talented minds. The Toronto Gay Gamers (the “Gaymers”) meet here regularly. There was an AIDS Sunset Service, and a night of remembrance upon the passing of Maurice Sendak. During Pride 2012, Glad Day revived the Proud Voices reading series, a program that lasted for three years before it vanished from Pride programming in 2010. There was the debut of the Kickstarter-funded Human Canvas Project. Last Friday night, they hosted the revue-style Loft Cabaret. (Watch a performance below.) The week before that, it was a caBEARet, a night of bear artists and creators.
I’ve paid attention to all of this from afar, and I’ve marvelled at the refurbishing of Glad Day’s spirit. I’ve watched it move from hidden gem to centre stage, from breathless to full of life. It’s become a queer arts hub with my foremost passion, literature, at its forefront. When I was done reading all the pathetic, teen-friendly gay lit in the ninth grade, I hit the web for some guidance. It led me to Glad Day, where I could indulge my love of mature themes with hardly any trepidation, or pore over copies of Têtu, a gay mag from France. This, I remember distinctly, was half a decade before bigger book stores began cultivating generous collections of LGBT-themed materials.
“The shop is still one of the only places where you can get queer books. Some books are carried in larger retailers, but a lot aren’t,” Wang says. “Especially for people out of town, it’s such an important resource [that] they can come here and have a queer space where they can find books that reflect themselves. I hear a lot of stories from people that the bookstore is one of the first places they came to after coming out.”
Still, it hasn’t exactly been easy for little bookshops living in this big box, digital world—and it’s been particularly heartbreaking in Toronto. At the beginning of this year, The Book Mark, the city’s oldest independent bookstore, closed its doors. The next day, the legendary Dragon Lady Comics also ceased operations after a rent increase. Last weekend, Harbord Street’s Toronto Women’s Bookstore, which closed in 2010 and re-opened three months later on a not-for-profit model, held a farewell party to celebrate its 39 years in business. Indigo, however, reported record net earnings just a few weeks ago. Amid this literary carnage, Glad Day’s future was at stake.
I often refer back to a quote from author Christopher Bram that I once jotted down in a notebook: “The gay revolution began as a literary revolution.” The same could be said about many great revolutions. This is why we should care about Glad Day, and the similar (indie/niche/speciality) bookshops beyond it—they’re a part of us all. For now, the team is taking its burgeoning operation one day at a time. The auxiliary events space can only help tap into its vast potential, and the shop hopes to work on accessibility and introduce online shopping.
So you can have Indigo, because Glad Day glows much brighter in the dark.
Glad Day Bookshop, 598 Yonge Street. 416-961-4161. Open daily.