Lament for a bookstore

It’s unfortunate McNally Robinson Polo Park closed, but it was never that different from its box store competition anyway

Ryan Janz

I’m another one of the many people who are sad and disheartened that McNally Robinson at Polo Park is gone. Personally, I would have preferred to see Chapters Polo Park leave the area because I, like many Manitobans, have a soft spot for McNally. But when I take a step back to compare the two bookstores, there’s really not that much difference between the two.

Putting the rise in sales of e-books aside, McNally and Chapters had – or were at least supposed to project – a different mentality when walking in. Chapters is like a library that you’re allowed to be loud in. I go there to browse, read, meet friends for coffee at Starbucks and practice playing the piano publicly on their grand piano. I rarely buy any books there because it is often more fun to hang out than to purchase anything.

The appeal of McNally Robinson is that it’s not Chapters. I wanted to buy books there because they didn’t have that same massive, high-ceiling aura that Chapters had. They had their restaurant separate from the bookstore so that you had to buy a book or magazine if you wanted to read while you had coffee and lunch. At Chapters, there’s no division between the books and Starbucks so you could read every book with a cup of coffee and not pay anything.

However, even though McNally was perceived as the alternative to the Chapters box store, in actuality it wasn’t.

One problem with McNally was that they had things that many wouldn’t go to a bookstore to buy. I never bought a birthday card, a mug, a bookmark or a notepad. I never went to McNally for my comic book needs either. I only bought one comic book on an impulse in comparison to the dozen novels I’d planned to buy.

What made McNally so similar to Chapters is that they also had too much of everything while still trying to be a nice, cozy bookstore. The huge selection was nice, but as a result, people were treating it like the same book warehouse/library that Chapters was, even though McNally had the more convenient location inside the mall.

McNally had the right feeling to it because it got people inside the store and excited about books and reading. But they way it was set up, just like Chapters, made it seem like going there without buying a book was not a big deal because they had so many around. It was as if all the shelves of books were a testament to their success, demonstrating their expertise as a one-stop shop for all of your book, and non-book, related needs.

Looking back on the McNally Robinson Polo Park location, even though it had the allure of being different from Chapters – mostly through perception rather than reality – it is unsurprising that the location has closed. Only so many large box bookstores can exist in a limited market.

In the end, it seems as though McNally relied on brand loyalty as reason enough for Manitobans to choose it over Chapters. If that’s the case, that strategy has failed.

Matty Rygiel is an English student at the University of Winnipeg.

Related Reads