Saturday, April 9, 2011

Last month, while walking west on Robson Street, I passed the Chapters/Indigo “book” store and saw in its windows a large number of toys to go with the ongoing avalanche of pictures frames and candles, that which is made for pennies in poorer countries and marked up twenty-fold by retailers here.

Two blocks later, while passing the HMV “music” store, I saw that their windows were filled not with CDs and DVDs but with books. Behind these books, a more startling display: what had once been rows CDs was now accessory stations for PVRs, some of which looked like the toys at Chapters/Indigo.

Should I be surprised? Given the emergence of online delivery systems, no. But to see it from the street, as opposed to reading about it. A Benjaminian moment, to be sure.

Yesterday, while walking east on Hastings, it happened again, only this time outside one of our city’s longest-serving independent music stores, Scratch Records. What might I find in her windows? Certainly not CDs.

Indeed, if the windows of Chapters/Indigo and HMV provided a view to the future, what I saw in the window of Scratch was the past -- and that was vinyl. Lots of it. I felt thirteen again, when I bought records at A&A, or used ones at Ernie’s Hot Wax.

Which brings me back to Chapters/Indigo and HMV. Where are they headed?

Today’s Globe and Mail suggests that Chapters/Indigo will turn into a department store. But was that not already attempted? As I recall, the big box book stores were designed to lease window space to publishers, as opposed to independents like Duthie’s, whose windows were “curated” by staff.

Maybe the only difference between now and then is, like the window versus the wall, a greater degree of transparency.


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