As I watched the former employees of Bestsellers strip the shelves and fixtures from the small Village Stroll store on Sunday, I wondered if I was seeing the end of an era for one Whistler business, or the beginning of the end of Whistler as we know it.
I interviewed Bestsellers owner Garth Riess in December when I heard a rumour that the store was closing shop after 10 years.
According to Riess his landlord was raising the rent, and the business could no longer afford to operate. In fact, Riess said the business really stopped turning a profit the last time his rent was increased a few years earlier.
Ive spent a lot of time in Bestsellers over the years shopping for CDs and browsing the bookshelves. The employees were always friendly and helpful, creating a rare, attitude-free atmosphere for customers. It seemed like they knew every band on the planet, and when their next CD was being released.
They were, in a word, cool. A small television screen in the corner showed the latest ski and snowboard movies, while staff members played DJ. I can think of three times in recent memory where Ive asked staff members what they were playing, and went on to buy the CD for myself.
Ive even bought CDs without even listening to them on the say-so of Bestsellers staff in all the years Ive frequented that store theyve never steered me wrong.
And in my five and a half years in Whistler, Ive completed seven of Bestsellers customer loyalty cards, and still have five other partially completed cards in my wallet. I can attest to the fact that the store was never empty when I was there, and in fact seemed to do a booming business.
The prices were slightly higher than in the city, but when you factor in the discount you get from the customer loyalty cards and the cost of a trip to Vancouver, Ive never felt like I was getting ripped off.
Besides, as a small shop Bestsellers just couldnt get the same volume discount as the mega stores. Riess told me in confidence how much the store pays for each CD and book, so trust me when I say his margins were pretty thin. The only reason he survived in Whistler as long as he did was volume, an advantage that would have been wiped out by another rent increase.
Now that Whistlers only music store an independent shop that provided an excellent service to both locals and visitors is gone, I can only wonder who will be next.