Trevor Abes: Writer

Tag: toronto review of books

Culture Hawker Chronicles: John Bowker and She Said Boom!

From the Toronto Review of Books.

Photo by Ted Best.

Photo by Ted Best.

In this series, Trevor Abes gets to know the people behind the counter at Toronto’s music stores, book shops, and art galleries.

John Bowker is the owner and operator of She Said Boom! Roncesvalles. For five years he served as board director for the Review Cinema and he is the current  chair of the Beautification Committee at the Roncesvalles Village Business Improvement Area. He shares his thoughts on book selling, community involvement and the future of Toronto record stores.

T: How did you co-found She Said Boom!?

J: I had been “seeking a situation” for quite a while, having graduated from journalism at a time when the government believed it was better for Canada to have a %12 unemployment rate than a %12 inflation rate. Eventually, I ignored all the obvious risks of not ever having run a business in my life. A few months later, me and my equally inexperienced partner Randy had signed a lease.

T: Where did you grow up?

J: I was raised in Scarborough, Birchmount-Finch neighbourhood. I moved downtown in my early 20s.

T: What kind of books are Torontonians buying?

J: Contemporary literature is, and always has been, the bread and butter of the store. Non-fiction books have taken a bit of a hit lately, probably due to e-readers.

T: What are the store’s prized possessions at the moment?

J: We have a first edition Slaughterhouse Five, and some really hard-to-find Yukio Mishima and Nabokov hardcovers. I also have The Fugs’ first record and Jodorowsky’s El Topo.

T: Share with us some of your recommended reads and albums.

J: The documentary Searching for Sugar Man, about the musician Rodriguez, and his 1970 album, Cold Fact. As for books, I highly recommend  A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.

T: Where do you see the record store business in Toronto going in the next decade?

J: You’ve heard of the Internet? iPods? Kobos? No book or record store owner can predict what the next 10 years will bring!

T: Has anybody at She Said Boom! ever met Fifth Column?

J: They are friends. Back in 1995, when I was trying to think of a name for my store, I was playing Fifth Column’s amazing second album, All-Time Queen of the World. The first song is called “She Said, Boom” and I loved the title’s fun and energy. I asked the band if I could use the song title for my store name, and they very graciously said, “Sure!”

T: How would you characterize Roncesvalles?

J: In my work on the Roncesvalles BIA, I have always tried to give the community a feeling of ownership of our street, so that it is a public space, not just a commercial space; I believe this philosophy is part of what makes Roncesvalles such a successful main street and neighborhood.  There is perhaps no better illustration of the strong relationship between businesses and the neighborhood than RoncyWorks, our guerrilla clean-up crew.

Visit him here.

Record Store Roundup: Kops Records

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Founded in 1976 with a focus on soul music and mod subcultureKops Records (229 Queen St. West) is Toronto’s oldest independent record store. It’s known for housing the largest selection of seven inch 45s in Canada and for an abiding dedication to musical roots. According to General Manager Patrick Grant, “[Kops] specializes in unveiling to people the roots of stuff that they like. We’re trying to provide [records] that elaborate on tastes you already have.” In this way, you can walk in listening to The Fugees’ “Killing Me Softly” (1995) and walk out – with two LPs under your arm – having learned that its memorable sitar riff is sampled from A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum” (1990) which sampled it first from Rotary Connection’s “Memory Band” (1967).

Read the rest here: Record Store Roundup: Kops Records.

Record Store Roundup: Play de Record

From The Toronto Review of Books

Play de Record marqueePlay de Record, at 357 Yonge Street, is a paragon of adaptation. Opened in 1990, behind a convenience store and with only records and tapes for sale, it has since taken over the front of the building and gone on to become the primo destination for seasoned DJs in need of the latest equipment, as well as upstarts looking to pick up new skills at Play de Academy. Play also sells new and used electronic/dance music you can’t find anywhere else in the city, concert tickets (minus the murderous Ticketmaster convenience fees), printed t-shirts, designer headphones, and rare merchandise.

Read the full review here: Play de Record.

Record Store Roundup: Viva La Vortex

From The Toronto Review of Books

Vortex RecordsNestled in the heart of Midtown (2309 Yonge Street, 2nd floor),Vortex Records and its owner, Bert Myers, have been supplying Torontonians with second-hand CDs and vinyl for almost 30 years.The store carries all kinds of music but specializes in rock and pop and is currently building up its jazz and country stock. They carry an ample A-Z soul section and rows of DVDs and Blu-Rays line the walls overhead.

The space is refreshingly free of impulse buys. Racks of already faded T-shirts, lunch boxes and additional novelty items are absent, leaving room for music, other people, and you, rendering the browsing experience a reprieve from what Myers playfully calls the “isolated beings and tall towers” of Yonge Street and Eglinton.

Read the full review here: Viva La Vortex.

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