It was announced on Feb 8 that Glad Day Bookshop, Canada’s oldest gay bookstore, is being bought by a group of 17 community members. The move has rescued the beloved shop from possible closure: current owner John Scythes had decided to either sell or close the doors forever. The new owners have lofty plans to revitalize the business by “launching initiatives to build community, foster creativity, support local artists and honour the importance of pleasure and love in our world.”
Glad Day was established by Jearld Moldenhauer in 1970.
: I sold books, gay newspapers and things like buttons out of a knapsack. I was living with a gay couple on Kensington Ave. It was there that The Body Politic
was produced and Glad Day had its first shop, both in the small unheated shed connected to the back of the house. To get into the shack you had to go through a long, dark, narrow passageway between our house and the one next door. The utterly amazing thing, which people today may well not believe, is that it had a constant stream of visitors.
After several location changes, the store settled into its 598 Yonge St location.
: The city had just closed down a substantial number of what were called “body rub parlours.” I rented what had been a second-floor parlour complete with massage couches. John Scythes helped put together basic shelving and display tables, and I bought an old glass counter as a cash desk. Considering how barebones the place was, it still attracted plenty of people, including John Rechy, Quentin Crisp, Jane Rule, Sir John Gielgud and Edward Albee. We even did a Toronto book launch for Christopher Isherwood.
The success of Glad Day prompted Moldenhauer to franchise, so he opened a second store in Boston in 1979. Eventually, he sold the Toronto location to John Scythes, a tradesman, in 1991.
: I wanted to try something different. I was naive about bookselling.
Glad Day sold gay porn back when acquiring it was an effort.
: We set up a St Agnes Religious Society as a false-front post office box, and we got a lot of dirty mags into the country that way. Once they discovered the mags, black dots were applied over dirty words and pictures by the Prohibited Importations Directorate, which created “approved” editions for Canada.
Glad Day’s selling of sexual imagery led to an almost endless succession of court cases.
: We had bad luck in 1992 with the Ontario Superior Court, which found all gay material obscene and declared that Customs was correct to keep it out of Canada. It cost me $40,000 to hear that.
In 1994 the store was charged again for selling the lesbian porn mag Bad Attitude.
: The Ontario government spent $2 or $3 million to harass me, and it achieved nothing. The border people don’t seize our books anymore. They finally see the futility of their efforts. But it was part of the job. I liked going to court.
: I certainly don’t miss what used to be daily warfare with Canada Customs. Those idiots did a lot to show the civilized world what assholes some Canadians can be. I always said that if the censorship battles hadn’t drained our resources and beaten us down psychologically for more than a decade, Glad Day would have probably been able to squirrel away enough money to buy a small commercial building.
Despite the legal woes, the store flourished throughout the ’90s, selling $50,000 worth of inventory each month. A number of people who worked there went on to publish their own books.
: I got a job there, and of course, you’d always get an earful from Jearld or John about something radical.
: I worked there part-time with Mitchel Raphael and Joseph Couture. John allowed staff on duty to have a quick sexual encounter with a customer in the stock room should the opportunity arise.
: I have enjoyed oral at Glad Day. Thank you for asking.
: From day one, Glad Day was very pro-sex! Many people loved that about a shop that was, by anyone’s account, a sort of sex emporium but simultaneously a serious literary institution. Many others, I suppose, stayed away for that very reason.
But many were comfortable enough to hang out in the store, attend Jeffrey Round’s Proust and Company book events in the upstairs apartment occupied by Josh Bentley-Swan, and watch the Pride parade from the roof.
: We had water-gun fights on the roof and shot water guns at the passing floats. I always loved seeing the parade go by directly below us. Unfortunately, the staff was sometimes characterized as “abrupt.” A 2008 posting on blogTO describes one sales clerk as “utter rudeness,” a claim echoed off the record by some customers. But it’s more likely that online shopping, Chapters/ Indigo, e-books and indifference were the final nails in the coffin.
: My inventory used to be valued between 70 and 80 thousand dollars. Now it’s worth more like 15 or 20. I blame Amazon. I am suspicious that they have a deal with Canada Post, paying substantially less than usual to ship goods. In return, Canada Post gets their trucks full. Even customers, though, will come in, pick up a book, scan the barcode and order it from Amazon on their iPhones right in front of us rather than bring it to our cash register.
Despite all this, Scythes remains a champion of gay literature.
Professor James Miller
: John has donated well over 1,500 books to the University of Western Ontario’s Pride Library since 1997. In fact, he remains our single most generous donor. Needless to say, the Pride Library has yet to receive a single donation from Indigo or Chapters.
: Glad Day leaves many fond memories in its 40 years of existence.
: I think the heyday of the gay bookstore has now passed.
: One day, the door will just be locked.
The new owners, however, are spectacularly optimistic about the store’s future.
: Glad Day Bookshop still has the potential for being a cutting-edge space to find queer resources, gather, have coversations and galvanize for our ongoing and future struggles.
Glad Day Bookshop is going ahead with a pre-planned closing party on Sat, Feb 18, 6–11pm, at Statlers, 487 Church St. There is no cover charge, but there is a cash bar.
Paul Bellini is a
fab columnist, a writer and an avid consumer of literature and porn.