Montreal’s Librairie Astro remains in danger of closing its doors, two months after it launched a crowdfunding campaign to help cover its expenses. The store, located on St. Catherine Street the city’s downtown, has been plagued with a rising tax rate, a downturn in the book market, and months of road construction that has reduced foot traffic by what co-owner Betty Handelman estimates to be about 50 per cent.
“We’ve raised about $2,000 and a bit, which is pretty far from where we need to be,” says Handelman, who owns store with her brother, Paul. Both Betty and Paul have suffered from ill health in recent years, which has also added to the family’s financial hardship. “Normally I put away money for taxes, knowing we’re going to get hit, but this year they raised it again and between my brother’s stroke, me having cataracts, and other stuff that went down, we haven’t been able to put the money aside.”
As of July 12, 31 people had donated a combined total of $2,270 over the course of two months. The store’s crowdfunding goal is $25,000.
Astro was founded more than 30 years ago, originally selling only books. Eventually, it began offering new and used comics, collectibles, and trading cards for the popular game Magic: The Gathering. Handelman says the variety of Astro’s offerings is part of what has kept the store in business throughout hard times: “When one is slow, the other picks up. We’ve seen an increase in book sales in the past year as ebook sales have tapered off.”
Astro also counts on a clientele of about 400 comic buyers who regularly pre-order their books on reserve each week.
The store, which is one of the largest comic retailers in Canada, is one of three comic shops in its neighbourhood – including Captain Québec and 1,000,000 Comix – each catering to a slightly different market. “The other stores help us,” says Handelman. “We’re mostly paper. Cap has a lot of the toys. The new owner of Cap said they hope we don’t close because they think it would hurt everyone.”
Even with a healthy clientele, a rebounding book market, and an end in sight to the surrounding road construction, Handelman, who has mortgaged her house and run up her line of credit to pay the store’s bill, says if additional funds aren’t raised soon, Astro will be forced to close. “Business is starting to creep up a little bit, but a little bit’s not enough. We can see down the line that it’s going to be OK … if we can make it down the line.”