She Said Boom! takes its indelible name from the first song on Toronto post-punk band Fifth Column’s All-Time Queen of the World. It has two locations (393 Roncesvalles Ave and 372 College St), under separate but amicable ownership, that serve two very different communities. The College store is close to Kensington Market and the University of Toronto so it caters to younger customers, mostly college students, while the Roncesvalles store gets more young families and people from Parkdale.
The storefront sign at She Said Boom! Roncesvalles is proof that written explosions are just as eye-catching as hot ones. Open since 1999, it’s one of the first businesses in Toronto to sell both books and music. “The reason was largely accidental,” says owner John Bowker. “I wanted to open a record store, and my partner wanted to open up a book store, and neither of us were able to pay the rent on a full store by ourselves. I remember wondering whether people would be willing to shop for books in a store where loudish, non-classical music was playing. Turns out, books and music worked very well together. And so obviously Chapters and Indigo stole our idea. Now Indigo sells candles.”
Walk past the understated window displays, then through the warm orange door, and you’ve left the cement jungle for a papaya, the shelves and stands a Pomona green and the walls a cream yellow. It’s a lagniappe that the subject signs hanging from the ceiling are printed with subject-specific fonts. Such a carnivalesque shift in setting can make She Said Boom! Roncy feel otherworldly or like a refuge, although from what I am not entirely sure.
Turning to music, the Independent section is worth a look for being larger than expected, as is the section marked 5 for $5 (or $1.49 each). Flip through New Releases for unopened material and see Hip Hop/R&B for some throwback selections. The crates of vinyl tucked under the stands are neatly kept with plenty of space for easy access. According to Bowker, “Vinyl records have long since eclipsed digital media, and they now represent half of my sales.” When asked what people were listening to in the late 90s, he said, “People were listening to Guided By Voices. Remember Guided By Voices?”
Turning to books, Classics and History are fairly thorough and the A-Z Literature section wants for nothing. Science and Philosophy, although small, can have their share of gems, including Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct and Mark Kingwell’s Dreams of Millennium: Report from a Culture on the Brink. The Children’s section, located in front of the counter, is equipped with two rugged blue chairs and a bleacher of literature covering ages three until about twelve. Those in search of a bargain should see the tempting and slightly obscure discount area.
Judging by the many books that lay over the properly shelved ones, She Said Boom! is perused often and will remain a neighborhood staple deeply involved in Roncesvalles’ development.
2 responses to “Portrait of a Record Store: She Said Boom! Roncesvalles”
College Street opened first, then Roncy followed soon after.
Which one opened first?