Canadian bookseller Nicholas Hoare announces closures

Canadian bookseller Nicholas Hoare announces closures

After a week of media speculation that independent Canadian bookseller Nicholas Hoare would be closing the doors of his namesake stores in Ottawa and Montreal, it has been confirmed that both locations will be shutting down, largely due to huge rent increases.

Operations will continue at the flagship store in Toronto, but the branch in the Canadian capital will be closing in April, and the Montreal store in July.

Hoare met with employees Thursday night (15th March) to discuss the future of the two sister stores: “The meeting was very productive but sad. Two hours in, we realised the writing was on the wall—the leases are expiring one by one and we shouldn’t renew,” he told The Bookseller. “It had nothing to do with financing, but everything to do with timing.”

A 72% increase in rent at the Ottawa location from its landlord, the National Capital Commission (NCC)—a central government agency—certainly pushed the bookstore over the edge, however, while the Montreal store also faced a 60% increase.

The small chain of independent bookstores is known for its high-quality selection of British books, and attention to detail in décor. Hoare said the careful design that has gone into his stores does not permit them to be easily uprooted and moved to a different location. “Every square inch of our store is calibrated—each [shelf] cut by hand. We can’t possibly take it out and move down the street,” he said. “It’s about the atmosphere, and that’s the tragedy—it’s not our loss, it’s the community’s. Where will they go now to find British books? Forty percent of our books are British, and Amazon doesn’t stock them.”

In Ottawa specifically, Hoare said he is disappointed with the NCC’s lack of communication and willingness to negotiate a compromise on rent for the store, which has been open since 1994 in a prime location on Sussex Drive, the street of the Canadian prime minister’s official residence.

“We’ve never met the NCC, but they are absolutely unapproachable, have total authority and the arrogance of power,” he said. “They hit us over the head [with this rent increase] the week before Christmas. It was very badly handled.”

According to a spokeswoman for the NCC, it hikes rents when the sale value of the associated property rises: Ottawa has seen significant property value increases in the past five years. “The position of the NCC is not to put people out of business,” she said, adding that generally, the NCC will work with businesses to see what can be negotiated.” She would not discuss this particular case, however.

Despite the closures, said Hoare, the Toronto store is now “being geared up”, and the bookseller has plans for an “enormously expanded website and blog”. He added he is not worried about the future of the flagship location, as it has “extremely lenient landlords” who understand the store’s significance.

“We’re continuing but changing very quickly,” said Hoare.