End of the road for women's bookstores?

With Canadian icon The Toronto Women's Bookstore in peril, the future looks bleak for women's bookstores.

Does the world still need women's bookstores? The raw statistics might suggest that the answer is no. The number of such institutions is shrinking, and now a particularly beloved icon – The Toronto Women's Bookstore – has announced that it is facing financial crisis.

According to a Tweet by the store, there were more than 125 women's bookstores worldwide in 1995. Today there are only 21 globally, with just three in Canada.

The Toronto Women's Bookstore has been in business for 36 years. For many years, it was seen as a thriving institution. But according to the store's owners, sales have declined of late (as they have at many independent bookstores). The group is now struggling to raise $40,000 in hopes of keeping their doors open for the next few months.

And even as they struggle, there are those who argue that women's bookstores – which seemed particularly vital during the civil rights battles of the 1970s – are less necessary today.

And yet it's hard to dismiss the appeal of these kinds of maverick institutions that offer a different bill of fare. As TWB itself asked in a Tweet last month, "Wonder if we're the only bookstore in existence to sell fewer than five copies of 'Twilight' "?

TWB has faced other crises throughout its history. A fire almost destroyed it in the early 1990s, and then a financial crisis threatened its existence on its 20th anniversary. Yet the store survived.

That's why some supporters say it would be a mistake to count this particular women's bookstore out too soon. With community support, TWB is hoping to pull through once again. "We haven't been around for 36 years for nothing," store spokesperson Robyn Bourgeois told the Toronto Globe & Mail.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/MarjorieKehe

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