We’ll miss you, Buy the Book
Article: Liam Fitz-Gerald – Contributor
At the end of January, the chapter of one business in the cathedral village will come to an end. Buy the Book, a small bookstore, is set to close as Chris Prpich and his father pursue other endeavours. For Prpich senior, the new focus in life is a transition back to the farm and for the son the new activity is pursuing his label, 13th Avenue Records.
In personal experience, Buy the Book has been a wonderful place to shop. They have a large selection ranging from science fiction, contemporary fiction, literature as well as books on philosophy, history and religion. Not only do they have books (and little chalk sketches of bodies like one sees on a crime show), they have a large variety of records as well.
Eighteen years ago, Prpich graduated high school and went into business with his father, starting Yaz’s Sports Memorabilia with a friend who opened up a bookstore and got his elderly cousin to run the bookstore. Unfortunately, his cousin died a short time later, and Prpich and his father decided to buy the bookstore.
“I was just out of high school and thought it would be a reasonable business for me to do. I didn’t know much about books though. I didn’t really read much,” he says.
Buy the Book opened in an era before big retailers and online delivery dominated the book business in the Queen City. During his time at Buy the Book, Prpich forged a bond with customers in the used book market and found he was “really into recycling.”
“I just learned the business over time and it was completely by accident that we got into [selling books],” he says.
As the business grew, the times changed, ushering in a new era of Internet purchasing and online delivery. Yet Prpich paid no heed to online delivery and focused on their store.
“For me, when I started, online didn’t exist and I’ve pretended since then that it doesn’t exist. I’ve always looked at online as a second job I never wanted.”
The business never installed debit or credit card machines either. For Prpich, it was about cutting out the banks and keeping the relationship strictly business-customer. Indeed, Prpich points out that business for Buy the Book increased steadily throughout its existence.
Prpich points out that the dying out of small book stores and other small businesses to large retailers like Chapters Indigo is the result of the general public voting with their feet. Exclusively shopping at large retailers and hoping small businesses stay open by shopping at them occasionally is unrealistic.
“If people prefer online shopping and making purchase at major box stores that’s up to them. It hasn’t had an effect on my store, but this is where it’s going. If people want small businesses to exist, that’s probably where they should put their dollars,” he says.
In discussions with Global Regina, Leslie Charlton, a board member of the Cathedral Business association and owner of Groovy Mama said that, despite the closure of Buy the Book, as well as A la Carte Catering and Roca Jack’s (two other small businesses in the area), owning a small business is still a worthy endeavour. She told Global Regina that consumers “backlash” retailers and turn to small, local businesses “to keep their money in the city.”
Prpich didn’t necessarily agree with that assessment. If anything the arrival of large retailers polarizes a community with some ultimately shopping at these places rather than small businesses.
“People are of convenience more than anything. It creates polarization among people and certain people decide to do it more and the group that supports small business becomes smaller, but more active,” he says.
He points out that Cathedral businesses have succeeded because they chose to have an identity adding that people support community, not individual businesses.
“The community association took charge in changing the way that this area viewed itself and the village arts festival is a celebration of that and it brought attention across the city to the area.”
Bruce C. Anderson, Director of the Centre for Management Development and a professor who teaches entrepreneurship at the Paul J. Hill School of Business, commented on the relationship between small businesses and community, calling independent business owners “a fabric of the community.”
“Successful communities are basically small towns. The problem with areas like this in a bigger city is that people that live there may work elsewhere and travel elsewhere in the city and because we’re very car focused in this city they may go to Superstore for a product rather than the local fish shop,” he says.
“We need a broader idea of supporting our local business. Small business if they become big business is wealth creation. A business that has done well here locally acquires wealth which means they’re donating to their church and local food bank and that wealth gets recycled in their community. That’s the advantage of a local business sector,” Anderson says.
Prpich and his father have been important members of the Cathedral business community. They were founding members of the Cathedral Business Association.
Some members of the community have expressed their sadness over the loss of Buy the Book. Shelley Patterson, owner of Dessart Sweets, said it was a surprise to hear that Buy the Book was closing but realized that the decision had been in the making for quite some time after all the press releases came out.
On Buy the Book, she says “It’s a pretty big hub especially for music and it’s going to be sad to have that space something different. It’s definitely a loss.”
Prpich commented that certain businesses do a lot of stuff together and talk to each other all the time. He said that for many businesses in the area, the relationship was like a network of people who would be there for each other. The news still shocked local fellow store owners and regular customers.
“Some of them were surprised. You become expectant that businesses that have been around for a while will be there forever. I think they understand how the area has been changing,” Prpich says.
Along with the arrival of online purchases and box stores, some of the changes have been higher rents. While the decision to close was based mostly on wanting to move on to something new, a story in CJME on the closing of Buy the Book has highlighted that Saskatchewan’s booming economy has not benefited everyone evenly with small businesses facing increased costs.
Anderson discussed increasing costs for small businesses, discussing property taxes in particular.
“The property tax regime is not equal. If we had a building that had a thousand square feet, the property tax that a business would pay on that building versus a residential use is almost two times as much in Saskatchewan.”
Anderson points out that “a blanket policy of property tax” as a way to generate revenue from businesses exists and it not necessarily effective. Indeed, not all businesses are wealthy and some smaller ones struggle under the tax regime and regulatory burdens, noting that statuary deductions and PST and GST add 15 per cent to cost of business for the small business. He does note that governments are being more responsive to small business rates.
With Buy the Book, Roca Jacks and A la Carte Catering closing up shop, Prpich and Patterson believe that the new properties will be snatched up pretty quickly as there is a large demand for Cathedral property. However, Buy the Book is still open until the end of January, and Prpich encourages people to come get books while they can.
“We are putting out new stuff every day and everything has to go.”
The week Chris was interviewed books were going for 70 per cent off. The week of this issue of the Carillon they are 80 per cent off. Next week they will be 90 per cent off.