Canada’s Indie vs. Chain Store Battle: Who’s Winning Where?

News broke yesterday that Greenwood’s Bookshoppe, one of two major remaining independent bookstores in Edmonton, will be closing in 7-10 days. This will leave the city with only one major independent bookstore.

“We’re going to seduce them with our square footage, and our discounts, and our deep armchairs”
The closure of independent stores, ostensibly because of competition from chain stores offering bigger selection, lower prices, and more amenities, is nothing new (though today, the squeeze is as likely to come iBooks, iTunes, online retailers, and increased online sharing). That quote comes from the 1998 movie You’ve Got Mail, where the owner of a major book chain opens a superstore on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Of course, his store puts a second-generation independent book seller out of business, and then they meet over the internet and start dating. The tension between chain stores and locally-owned businesses plays into this romantic comedy which I imagine would feel dated to watch 14 years after its release. But I digress.

Books
Flickr/Ricky Leong
A sign in the window at Pages on Kensington, a popular independent bookstore in Calgary.

The Indie vs. Chain Battle Today
With the Greenwoods closure on my mind, I wanted to see what I could find out about the state of book and music stores in Canada. Using information on trade bookstores from the Canadian Booksellers’ Association, and information on participating stores in Record Store Day, I identified a number of independent (and small chain) stores in each major Census Metropolitan Area. In the end, 12 metros (of the 15 largest) had more than 5 combined.

I also wanted to see what kind of relationship existed between independent stores, and major chains. Attrition has left only one major chain in each industry, so I counted Chapters/Indigo/Coles locations and HMV stores as well.

Metros with the Most Independent Book and Music Stores

Metros with the Most Big Chains

The Relationship Between Indie and Chain Stores
With a few exceptions, most metros don’t have a huge variation between the number of indie and chain stores.

Here is a list of the 12 metros with their number of independent and major chain stores:

The first thing that stands out is how both Edmonton and Calgary have a significantly higher number of chain stores. If you want one reason Greenwood’s went out of business, think about this. Metro Edmonton, with a little under half the population, has the same number of Chapters/Indigo/Coles locations as Metro Vancouver.

The rest of the metros on this list don’t see a significant difference (except indie store hotbeds of Kitchener-Waterloo and London, Ontario). Of course, this doesn’t speak to the stability, or profitability of independent stores. It’s also worth noting that Edmonton independent record store ranking is in the second cluster of cities trailing the big three (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver). Perhaps, as Andy posited, the problem in Edmonton is with the shops, not the market itself.

More to the point, as I alluded to earlier, both independent and chain stores are under threat from a changing industry and consumer habits. I wrote about the changing bookstore, with some ideas for future models, in May. Book (or record) stores will be around in some form, but likely in smaller numbers, at least for the foreseeable future.

Given that, what I do feel confident in saying is that, unless they continue to adapt and evolve, consumers shouldn’t be surprised to see their favorite book or music store – independent or chain – close up shop.

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