The Indigo Spirit store in Mount Royal Village has closed and few will mourn its passing. It’s hard to say now if it was a matter or arrogance or ignorance, probably a bit of both, that put landed the country’s biggest chain of bookstores, where they presumably know what they’re doing, in one of the best locations in Calgary and yet managed to fail and fail miserably. And so now they are packing up the last of their remainder books and stealing away. The beast is dead and it died not even with a whimper.
A few blocks to the south of Mount Royal Village – which, it must be noted, seems to have some sort of curse on it, as it seems to be a magnet for failing enterprises – is one of Canada’s (ie, the world’s) wealthiest and most literate neighbourhoods. All around MRV to the north, east and west are apartments filled with students, artists, seniors, in general people who like to read. One block west is Caffe Beano, one of Calgary’s most literary cafes, certainly the only one with two poetry anthologies to its credit.
Had anyone from Indigo ever bothered to sit in Caffe Beano for a few hours and check out what we were all reading, they might have fashioned a more relevant inventory and sold a few more books. Instead, it came to be known as the book store that had absolutely no books in it of interest to anyone. It was worse than what you might expect to find in a far flung suburban mall at the end of the earth.
All that said, this is no great victory, it’s just a regrettable failure. I have to admit I managed to find a few books there over the years, most notably one of my all time faves, The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. One of the clerks at Indigo, Blair, who became a friend over the years bought a copy for himself and we bonded on that. With the closing of the store, Blair is running back to Saskatoon, apparently having had enough of cowtown. The staff was great and I wish them all the best of luck. They were involved with a doomed enterprise and they all knew it, but they soldiered on.
And so Indigo Spirit is gone. Its passing will go without notice, other than this one. In the words of one of my favourite playwrights, Michael O’Brien: See ya. Hates to be ya.
All is not lost in the hood, however, as for the past few years we have been blessed with a truly wonderful independent book store, Shelf Life Books (a link can be found on the left hand side of this page).
Shelf Life is for those of us who live on the south side of the Bow River what Pages in Kensington is for those on the north side. (This isn’t an absolute, obviously. Most of us who have the book habit frequent both places quite happily.) Here the inventory matches the sensibilities of the people in the neighbourhood it is found in, just a few blocks east and a few blocks north of the now defunct Indigo.
Readings abound. Books are launched and prominently featured. Local authors (like me) can be found on the shelves (as it were). They take their place in our community seriously. In fact, just yesterday I popped in and spoke to Will, one of the owners, about launching my volume of poetry, Nocturnal Emissions, in the fall. No problem. I just have to finish writing it!
Last year when Robert Kroetsch passed away, an evening of readings and tributes was held, allowing those of us who knew Robert (he edited an anthology of short stories for Coteau Books which contains my first ever published work) some sense of closure.
In these uncertain times, these troubled times in the publishing world, when who in their right mind would open a book store, we celebrate the continuing presence of Shelf Life in our community.
So we lost one book store that had no connection to the neighbourhood it was located in, that showed no desire to get to know any of us; yet we retained a good locally-owned literary book store and cultural centre that constantly brings together the authors and book lovers who live and work in this part of town and beyond.
It’s another reminder to support our local businesses, our friends and our neighbours. Clearly this is exactly what is happening in South West Calgary. In this particular case, one can’t help but think that for once, the good guys won.