Vancouver Loses its Last Duthie Books

bookstore in redThe advent of “the book itself [being] in the throes of a technological transformation, and book readers undergoing a major demographic shift” is often exalted as a revolution leaving no nostalgia for the dying bastions of literature and print that our local newspaper and independent booksellers represent. And while I most often share this excitement for the future, I cannot help but mourn for the loss of such local landmarks.


January 19, 2010 We are sad to tell you that Duthie Books 4th ave is closing. After 53 years, the last Duthies bookstore is closing. Goodbye to all that! The Duthie family: Cathy Legate, Celia Duthie and David Duthie, wish to thank all the customers, readers, staff, authors, and publishers who have been part of Duthie Books over the years, particularly our customers who have remained steadfast over these past 10 years at 4th Ave.

We have had 53 (mostly) happy years of bookselling in Vancouver. We have offered friendly recommendations, and stocked good books. For 53 years Duthies has provided a good book service to the city, championed BC and Canadian books, encouraged the public to read local writers, and helped to create a knowledgeable reading public. The book culture of Vancouver and BC has grown up and flourished around Duthies from publisher’s reps to publishing houses , authors, illustrators, designers, printers, literary festivals, and university writing and publishing programs have emerged in the Duthies milieu and many Duthies alumni work in all parts of the book trade.

Thank you and Good bye

Everybody knows that Independent bookstores have been under pressure from the ‘big box’ operations for many years now and it is clear that it is not going to get any better; the likes of Chapters, and Amazon are ruthless in their drive for market share and we cannot compete on price anymore. The book itself is in the throes of a technological transformation and book readers undergoing a major demographic shift.

It isn’t that I fear our burgeoning online networks won’t foster the same meccas of culture that the bound book’s trade and sale has meant to civilization, but while we straddle the boundary between old and new, I can’t help but think of what so many independent bookstores – in Little Rock, and across the American South, as well as in Vancouver and all points in between – have meant to my education, and done to help me quench my thirst for good books.

As part of our annual Eminent Person Study, our class takes a field trip into Vancouver to visit its local independent booksellers to absorb and celebrate the hubs of knowledge these places represent where they remain in our city. And I hope that we can continue in this tradition, as the power latent in walls piled floor-to-ceiling (and basement) in volumes which are each the result of the prolonged outpouring of an author’s passion are sacred places in the study of English. Like Ariana’s bookcases, they are monuments to literary souls.

Here is tonight’s CBC News piece on the closing of Duthie Books.

3 thoughts on “Vancouver Loses its Last Duthie Books

  1. This is sad. When in that part of town, I have often “licked the windows” (French expression meaning window shopping) of Duthies and have sometimes bought books there. They had an interesting selection.

    I also adore Vancouver Kidsbooks . (May they not be in similar financial distress!) Though adult books make up the bulk of Ariana and Saskia’s reading now, I still find well chosen books there. Chinaberry is a very good independent on-line store for children’s books, again offering thoughtful selections but also good descriptions. We have by now well and truly outgrown that company in this family, however.

    I’m not exclusively tied to such good book stores, though. I’m known to fall into the black hole of time in the book section of thrift stores as well. I frequent four different municipality’s public library systems, depending on what I’m looking for. Oh, the book habit runs deep and strong.

    One of my late husband’s friends was among the three founders of Abe Books, an internet site for used book stores to hawk their wares to a wider public – thus straddling a bit of that old fashioned book + technological invention divide. Abe Books has kept some used book stores in business by giving them a wider clientele. I once bought the most exquisitely illustrated copy of the original Pinocchio story there for Bronwyn when she was tiny. This one was decidedly not Disney (did you know the real Pinocchio killed the annoying little cricket?) and Roberto Innocenti’s art is breathtaking. This friend of Jacques’ quit a job as a government programmer to start the company, mainly because he was keen to work with books instead of bureaucrats. And though the site is designed to obscure the fact, the company is actually in Victoria, British Columbia.

    Obviously, my daughter has outed me regarding some of my book habits, not to mention my lackadaisical housekeeping. Her father’s habits were even more dire. Our previous house was stacked with books: books piled everywhere, overflowing every surface. I argued with him to thin down our holdings. We looked like a used book store, I said, and were probably a fire hazard. I cringed when I read your response to Ariana’s post. Jacques always said that the books were his friends, that he could remember what each book contained just by picking it up and leafing through it. He said he needed to keep them all to remember them and to loan them to friends. You never knew, he said, when a certain book might be just the perfect one for a particular person. When I had to sell our old house and move our truncated family into Port Moody after he died, I got rid of 25 enormous boxes of books. His books. I felt like a traitor.

  2. Thank you for this thoughtful and touching comment, Tasha (it is nice to know my lament is shared – and as we were saying yesterday afternoon: seen).

    I am constantly on the lookout for obscure books, be they in thrift stores, garage sales, used book stores or (my personal favourite) the SFU seasonal offselling of old library books. Not only do these sales offer a wider variety of specific titles not available at the likes of Chapters or Barnes and Noble, but there is something about my second hand books that is imbued with the energy of their previous owners.

    I love reading the penciled notes in the margins of 2nd hand classics, and the inscriptions in the front covers of volumes that have seen their purpose fulfilled and have been passed on (one of my favourites in this regard is a copy I have of one of my professor’s collections of short stories inscribed to someone named Bill with the line: “I hope you enjoy the stories.” Well…).

    And while I do love my own books (and they bear the marks, inscriptions and underlines of this love in their tattered pages), and do indeed identify with Jacques’ idea that they are my friends, all integral components that have given to my personal development and growth, they will likely wind up out there in the world somewhere, where they will continue to give of themselves to people willing to seek them out.

    I probably wont have a home office with all the room I enjoy now for long, and while I do feel slightly more whole with my stacked volumes of Hermann Hesse, Douglas Coupland and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I know that I am likely to feel better knowing that what my authors have meant to me is being shared with others, be they friends of mine or otherwise. I’m sure Jacques’ books are providing similar solace somewhere.

    Thanks again for joining the conversation!

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