In the interest of all things literary, TheSceneinTO has decided to begin profiling used bookstores across our fine city. In this ongoing series, we will focus on various establishments, reveal some of their quirks, and examine the general state of the used book trade around town.
Our first in stop is Doug Miller Books, located at 663 Bloor Street West.
Doug Miller’s bookstore is exactly what you want in a used bookstore: it’s welcoming, overflowing with a wide breadth of genres, and just organized enough to make the browsing pleasurable. This latest incarnation of the bookstore, in the middle of little Koreatown, is the fourth incarnation of the shop and has been in its current emplacement since relocating from Mount Pleasant Road about a year ago. The move was not necessarily premeditated. The previous store’s building was sold to veterinarians who, funnily enough, changed the old locale into a veterinary clinic. “Not to slight any of my past customers,” Miller says, “but in the end this will be a better location. I liked the old place, and miss many of my old customers, but quite a few of them have started to come down here to shop, which is great. The fact that there isn’t a lot of retail down here, that it’s mostly restaurants, actually helps my business. People are happy after they eat—they’ re more relaxed, content, and that fits with the pleasant pace of browsing.”
Miller is reluctant to say that he specializes in anything because, he intimates, people then tend to peg the store as dealing predominantly in one genre. Though Miller does carry an exceptionally large number of children’s books—which is a particular hit with neighbourhood’s Korean families trying to teach their children English—the shop has a wide selection of literature, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, graphic novels, and non-fiction. “This street is so diverse that you get the full spectrum of customers, from university professors to plumbers to students to truck drivers to anyone, really. With that kind of clientele, the last thing you want to do is limit your stock.”
And having been in the book trade for the last quarter century, Miller should know. A love of books first led him into the trade, when he immediately started amassing large quantities of books and comics. “My passion and hobby became something wonderful that turned into a career vocation.” Many of the books he acquires now come from people walking in off the street or trading in books they’ve previously bought, though he also gets a lot of his merchandise from wholesalers or overstock outlets. Of course, he can’t ignore the march of time towards its embrace of the digital age.
“Let’s face it, I can’t compete with box stores, I can’t compete with online sellers, and I can’t compete with e-books. But that’s not the market I inhabit, our store caters to a different kind of clientele. People come in here because I have a good working knowledge of the things I have in my store and I can help them find what they’re looking for, by recommending things that suit their tastes and reading desires. That’s where you have to shine as an independent bookseller.”
For Miller, it’s far from doom and gloom for the used book industry. In fact, he’s refreshingly resolute and optimistic about the state of the market. “Maybe it’s my own naïveté, but I think that when you’re involved with something you plan to do for the rest of your life you shouldn’t talk disparagingly about it! That won’t entice anyone to get interested if they think this will be the death of it.” And what about the increasing popularity of e-readers and the like? “Well, about twenty-five years ago there was a book published called The Last Book You’ll Ever Read, which came with a disk insert on the back flap that was a digitized copy of the entire book; this, presumably, was meant to sound the end of the paper-form book. The idea didn’t last, or at least didn’t obliterate the idea of books. People still feel a connection to the book form.”
If anything, as Miller sees it, the current technological shift has potential benefit for better quality books and added creativity within the industry, thanks to the lower overhead many publishers will increasingly benefit from. And that overarching fact seems more important to him, at least in the culturally relevant sense, than his own profit margin. “It may actually save publishers in a way. The point is: in the end, if publishers can make more money by cutting the traditional expenses of printing, layout and distribution, maybe they’ll publish more stuff and take a chance on something that’s a cut above the usual book they’ve been publishing. It’s possible, we’ll see what happens…”
So, if you do find yourself strolling the endless stretch of superb Korean restaurants on the Bloor path, be sure to stop into this convivial commerce devoted to the printed word. You’ll even get to meet the adorable Bumpkin, the shop’s resident rabbit. Bumpkin’s eight and has lived in the store for the past four years, given the fact that Miller’s son is allergic. “The idea of getting rid of the Bumpkin was just too much, too disheartening, so I took him into the store and everyone loves seeing him. Actually, we have people who come to the store just to see the rabbit.” That may not necessarily be good for Miller’s business per se, but at least Bumpkin’s winning personality keeps bringing ’em in to this shop.
Doug Miller Books is open Monday-Sunday, 10am-9pm, and can be reached at 416.482.5665.