Friday, September 7, 2012

Mother Tongue Books/Femme de Paroles

Mother Tongue Books interior
Mother Tongue Books/Femme de Paroles

Location: 1067 Bank Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Opened: December 3, 1994

Closed: July 21, 2012

From the Quill & Quire, June 12, 2012:

Ottawa’s Mother Tongue Books to celebrate 18 years of bookselling before closing shop

By Natalie Samson

Ottawa’s Mother Tongue Books will close its doors for good next month. While the shuttering of any bookshop is sad news indeed, owners Evelyn Huer, Laura Rayner, and Julie Gagnon are looking at the closure as an opportunity to celebrate what they’ve achieved in 18 years as an independent bookstore and community hub.

“One way or another, it’s going to close,” Huer says. “All we can control is how we feel about it … [so] let’s send this thing off in celebration.”

The feminist community bookstore opened in 1994 and since then textbook sales have been what “buttered the bread,” Huer says. While professors placed the usual textbook orders for the 2012 academic year, sell-through with students was at an all-time low last fall, causing significant cash flow issues. The trio of women decided that closing the shop would be preferable to taking on any more debt. (They’re re-directing coursebook orders to nearby Octopus Books.)

Starting with in-store appearances by Elizabeth Hay and singer-songwriter Jill Zmud on June 22, Mother Tongue will host a commemorative event every Friday night until its last day of business on July 21. Huer says the series is meant to “close the store with some grace” and “honour our customers,” adding that community events are the “things that sustain us in bad times.”

In the meantime, the owners have posted to their blog five ways community members may support the shop through its transition, including making a cash donation towards the store’s closing costs, contacting the store with a note of encouragement, and — no surprise — buying their remaining books.

Mother Tongue Books (2012)
Mother Tongue co-owner Evelyn Huer
Here is a portion of an interview that writer rob mclennan did with Mother Tongue co-owner Evelyn Huer in December 2011:

Owned and operated by former staff of the Ottawa Women’s Bookstore, Mother Tongue is committed to books by and for women, but as a healthy focus that doesn’t exclude any other groups, including prominent gay and lesbian selections of works, a section of critical theory and a well-stocked selection of children’s books, as well as limited-edition chapbooks and trade books by local writers, male and female alike. Given that another couple of independent booksellers in the city that have closed their recent doors, Mother Tongue Books currently makes up a strong part of a very short list of Ottawa bookstores (Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeebar on Wellington Street West is another). Co-owner/operator Evelyn Huer recently answered a few questions concerning the bookstore, and their history.

rob mclennan:

How did the bookstore first get started, and what were the challenges?

Evelyn Huer:

We all worked at OWB. Peggy Harriszz expressed an interest in selling the shop, but for various reasons that deal fell through. She closed her shop about a year after we opened. Peggy is a critical/ palliative care RN and returned to nursing full-time at Elizabeth Bruyere. We chose our location to be close to the university and a branch of the library. We wanted to have a meeting space and we accomplished that. Over the years we have had several established groups meet in the shop. The question of accomplishing what we set out to do is a tricky one. Several things shifted in the first few years of business. Chapters opened. Mike Harris invaded Ontario and many agencies that we had supplied could no longer afford to purchase resources for clients or libraries. Luckily, professors from both universities ordered course books through us. In the beginning we identified ourselves (and still do) as a feminist, queer positive space. We became community booksellers and began to take on the character of the community. Special orders are a large part of our business. We also act as booksellers for many professional conferences and stock materials for several professional groups.

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