St. Laurent Boulevard is set to lose a jewel of a bookshop as rising rents force a beloved bookseller into early retirement after 25 years.
On October 26th workers from 1-800-GOT-JUNK carried armfuls of books to the back of a dump truck. Inside Librairie T. Westcott, hidden behind stacks teetering on the verge of collapse, Terry Westcott sat behind the cash and sold books like it was a regular day.
The customers seemed more or less unaware that the bookstore he had run for so many years was being taken apart piece by piece behind him. For his part, Terry seemed to be playing along with the facade.
“Do you have a copy of Old Man and the Sea?” a woman asked. Terry smiled and pointed to a shelf a short distance away. “If we have any Hemingway it’s in the Literature section. But I don’t think we do at this time.”
“Oh well, I had to ask,” replied the woman and headed for the Literature shelf, dodging a worker clearing out books as she passed.
Outside, it started raining. The worker dutifully dumped his armload onto the growing pile of soggy books. “Don’t worry, it’s going in the recycling, not the dump,” the worker offered, as if trying to downplay some sense of personal culpability.
During a pause in the dramatic scene that was unfolding, I got a chance to ask Terry about his bookstore, why it was closing and his fondest memories of the place. Soft-spoken to the point of a whisper, he graciously obliged.
“My lease ended September of last year in 2016. Then in June the landlord came and told me that he had advertised the store for rent online and he’d received an offer of $4500 a month. There’s no way I can maintain a used bookshop at $4500 a month.”
Terry told me he would stay open as long as possible, until he was locked out. Some books would be donated, some would be sold, but most were headed for the dump truck.
“Yeah, it’s all going into the recycling. Around 20 000 books, altogether. It’s ridiculous.”
The inability to meet exorbitant rental fees is a familiar story along St. Laurent Boulevard. Every block of The Main contains at least one or two shuttered businesses. While Quebec has excellent rent control legislation in residential zones, small businesses like Terry Westcott’s survive at the whim of landlords, who can increase their rents to whatever price they can get from new tenants.
The loss of Librairie T. Westcott is a blow. A small store, Terry made use of every square foot. Organized by subject, piles of books reached close to the ceiling in places and navigating the aisles was sometimes a challenge. Whether Terry planned it this way or not, it had the effect of making each ‘find’ more gratifying, especially if you did it without causing a bookvalanche.
This is not to say things were disorganized. Once I laid down a number of heavy books I’d wanted to buy and when I came back for them five minutes later discovered that Terry had silently placed them all back in the their respective sections.
“A bookstore is a community, not just a business.” Terry said. Apart from hundreds of customers drawn in off the street, dozens of dedicated regulars came through his shop each month. “I read a sociological study that if a bookstore’s in the area, the crime rate drops by 30%. Somebody told me that Paris protects their bookshops [from rent increases]. I don’t know if it’s true or not.”
When asked about his fondest memories, he tells me it’s the community that he helped foster that he’ll miss the most: “People that are still book buyers and have a passion for books.”
He’ll also miss his two devoted regulars: “I had two little cats in the store and they’re a very fond memory. One died at 19, the other at 18.”
Their names? Emma (after Jane Austen) and Eliot (after T.S.). “The veterinarians could never get his name right, spelling it ‘Elliott’ like Pierre Elliott Trudeau.”
I ask him what he’ll do after he retires.
“Well, I’m 74 but I don’t want to retire. I’m still healthy and mentally active, I was hoping to continue. So I have no plans in particular. Maybe I’ll watch golf on television, read the newspaper. Maybe I’ll take in another cat, an older one. They have their lives to live too.”
At the time of writing, hundreds of books have been trucked away. The entire back wall is now bare in preparation for renovations by the new tenant.
But one thing is certain— as long as he can manage to keep his doors open, Terry and Librairie T. Westcott will continue to enrich the community he helped foster for the last quarter century.
* While it’s still open, T. Westcott Books is located at 4065 boul. St-Laurent