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.