Why Glad Day is North America’s oldest surviving–and thriving–gay bookstore

Glad Day is more than just a bookstore, and it hosts a wide variety of events (Photo: Glad Day)

It’s sad to think that a couple of decades ago, there were dozens of LGBTQ bookstores around the world. Thanks to the internet, and rising rent prices, that number has dwindled significantly.

Glad Day in Toronto, Canada, is believed to be the oldest gay bookstore in the world.

Its history dates back to 1970 before there was much of an established gay scene in Toronto. It began life with activist Jearld Moldenhauer becoming a mobile library and hauling LGBTQ books around in a backpack to community meetings.

Glad Day in Toronto
(Photo: Glad Day)

In 1981, Glad Day took over a small, cramped second-floor space on Yonge Street. Despite the lack of space, it gained a loyal following who returned, again and again, to browse the books, magazines and comics, listen to readings, hold activism meetings or check the community bulletin board.

However, like other booksellers, the turn of the century brought fresh challenges. In 2012, 23 local LGBT community members pooled their resources to buy Glad Day in order to avoid closure. In 2015, the new team created Naked Heart – The LGBTQ Festival of Words which has become the largest LGBTQ literary festival in the world.

The new management and fresh injection of energy didn’t manage to solve all of the small store’s financial problems. In 2016, it was decided that a move to a new, bigger location was essential.

Drag brunch at Glad Day (Photo: Glad Day)

It took over the former bar Byzantium at 499 Church Street. Although just a couple of blocks away from its current home, the premises are in the heart of the city’s gay district.

The larger premises allowed Glad Day to offer more attractions, including a much-needed coffee store, bar, and performance space in the evening (many of the bookshelves are on wheels so can be moved to create more room).

Drag Brunch (Photo: Glad Day)

The move to the new premises proved successful, with the business now deriving 65% of its revenue through drink sales alone.

However, then Covid came along. Because of the pandemic, Glad Day has had to close its door for almost an entire year. This has again placed it in a perilous position.

Related: Gay Toronto

It’s managed to switch to hosting some events online (over 550 and counting over the last 12 months).

“The store is currently doing pick-up only, but we have an open window to the street that people can come up to and buy books, drinks and food from,” Glad Day’s co-owner Michael Erickson told GayCities.

“We have refreshed our online store and our online sales have seen an increase during the pandemic, but it is much, much less than what we sell when people can come in and browse.”

Drag brunch at Glad Day in Toronto, Canada
Drag brunch (Photo: Glad Day)

Erickson says the impact of the last year has been “devastating.”

“The rent in Toronto is very high, so we rely on our food and drink sales for the majority of our revenue. With the restrictions against bars as well as retail – we are left in a fragile and precarious position and look forward to a successful reopening and government support to keep us going.”

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The team have encouraged people to think about donating what they might have spent in-store each month, whether just for a coffee ($4.50) or drag brunch for four ($100).

Thanks to this, besides helping it to continue trading, its associated non-profit, Glad Day Lit, has also managed to provide emergency grants to 900 LGBTQ people in need, many of them writers and artists.

Since its inception, Glad Day has always been so much more than just a store.

“Bookstores become like a home base for a lot of people’s journey of self-awareness,” Erickson recently told Thrillist. “It also ends up being a place where people can gather for free any time. The place where they can go where there’s a problem.”

Glad Day is at the very heart of the Toronto LGBTQ scene. If you can donate anything, do so at gladdaylit.ca.

Related: Iconic San Francisco bar Moby Dick gets a sexy leather jacket makeover featuring James Baldwin

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