Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ottawa’s mother tongue books to close doors; come help wind down the store,

A sad email circulated yesterday, citing the demise of mother tongue books [photo credit: Pearl Pirie] in Old Ottawa South. 

One of but a handful of independent booksellers left in the city (apart from Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeebar and Octopus Books, for example), so it’s heartbreaking to see it close. I’ve been both participant and audience for a great many readings there over the years, and they’ve been an incredible supporter of a number of local communities, not just of writers [see the article I wrote on them last fall, posted in Open Book: Ontario]. 

You should go by their store and thank them, and help them leave the business without their massive debt. It’s the least we can do.

Here’s the notice posted to their website, yesterday (highlights mine):

Celebrate mother tongue books

Help us close the store, start a new chapter and leave a lasting legacy
June 12, 2012
Help us wind down the store

June 12, 2012

Dear Friends,

There is no easy way to say this…

“After almost 18 years of serving our community it is time to close our beloved mother tongue books!”

There, we said it!

It’s okay to mourn a little bit, but then let’s celebrate together what mother tongue has achieved and the supportive role it has played in our community. We need your help to do that and create the strongest possible legacy of our small shop, from buying books to donating towards our closing costs, to attending events (more on this below).

It is obvious to everyone that there have been dramatic changes in the “book industry” since we opened in 1994. Running a bookshop, like running any small business, is a challenge. Bookselling is not for the faint of heart, but it is a dynamic way to engage, nourish and build community.

Bookselling is a beautiful way to share ideas (and ideals), and to support new journeys of discovery, learning and change. One of the great joys of being a bookseller is putting the right book in the right hands. What a wonderful gift to be a part of the reading and creative lives of our customers and community!

We have been blessed to be able to support the ideals, dreams and struggles of others. It is deeply gratifying, and humbling to have been part of our customers’ lives. We have built up a very loyal community – we appreciate you more than you can know!

Still, there are many others who love the “idea” of small, neighbourhood bookshops, and other local businesses, but who no longer shop in them. The scales have tipped in the past 5 or 6 years. The “ideal” life of bookselling is outweighed by financial and emotional exhaustion. In short, we are tired! For us, this little shop no longer translates into a sustainable business model or a way to serve our community. We have other things we need and want to do!

In this spirit, we are asking for your help to close the bookshop. We want to engage our community to help wrap things up, to help us celebrate what we have grown together and to plant seeds for a thriving legacy for mother tongue books.

To wrap things up we need to sell a lot of books, raise some money, and put things in order. Here are 5 things you can do to help:

1. Buy books from us!

2. Donate. No amount is too small. Join the Friends@200 fund, where individuals or groups purchase $200 worth of books or donate $200 toward our closing costs. Offer a service or special item for our online auction (details to follow!). Or just pass the hat at your next meeting, group or event! We appreciate every gift.

3. Join us at our series of events starting Friday, June 22, with Giller award-winner Elizabeth Hay and acclaimed Ottawa-based singer-songwriter Jill Zmud. Events are every Friday evening until July 20.

4. Send us a note of support or share a special “mother tongue moment” on our open blog at We will be sharing these stories and memories as a way to honour the store’s history. And spread the word! Circulate this blog’s URL

5. Buy local. Now, more than ever, it is important to support your remaining local booksellers and businesses. They are the building blocks of vibrant neighbourhoods and communities. Next time you are at a community event, take the time to see which local businesses that supported it; in turn, support those businesses.

Our work is rooted in our feminist politics and our commitment to justice and equality for our LGBTTQQ family. Over the years we have supported many community-based organizations, from local arts groups to anti-violence agencies, from community choirs to international charities, from cooperative preschools to hospices. We want to thank those organizations for the work they do and we want to encourage all of you to consider donating time or money to those who make our communities richer. Their energy is incredible. We hope that that energy will be part of our legacy.

We are people who believe that the most rewarding thing in life is to be of service. So help us work in this spirit over the next weeks. Let’s celebrate what needs to be celebrated, close what needs to close, and support what needs to open! We have faith that other projects, businesses, and initiatives will come after us

Friends, we have not made this decision lightly. We ask that you please honour our choice and be happy for us, even as we all mourn a little bit for our community’s collective loss. We believe that there will be a renaissance in bookselling, but we are aware that we cannot be part of that rebirth. Please know that this moment is both frightening and exciting for us as we move into a new phase in our own lives.

Thank you for your trust, support and friendship. These things, we will never leave behind!

Laura Rayner, Evelyn Huer, Julie Gagnon

mother tongue books

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