2014 Villain: Death of Toronto Bookstores
Nominated for: taking away many of our favourite places, and proving that convenience beats character and charm.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 5 p.m. on December 30. At noon on December 31, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
Bookstores come and go, but nowadays, they mostly go. This spring, Toronto saw a dizzying spate of closures, affecting the flashy, the venerable, and the sizeable. The World’s Biggest Bookstore closed in March, being one of three stores to do so that month (for a total of six in as many weeks). Book City closed its Annex location after 37 years in business, around the same time that the esteemed Cookbook Store in Yorkville closed after 31 years.
The World’s Biggest Bookstore was one of three Indigo-owned stores to close this year: it was joined by the gift-and-stationery-packed Chapters location at John and Richmond (throw pillows and cute pens aside, that place had an excellent row of comfy chairs lined up in the windows on the second floor, and a nice collection of art books), and the genuinely lovely Chapters in the old Runnymede Theatre over in the west end. True bibliophiles likely felt the strongest pangs of regret when Steven Temple Books closed in January. Temple sold beautiful antiquarian books in a shop filled with character—walking into his place made you feel like the protagonist of a ’30s novel.
Losing so many bookstores so quickly felt like a sucker punch that lasted all spring, but fans of wandering through the stacks know that the trend has been going on longer than that. Beloved shops such as Nicholas Hoare, Pages, This Ain’t the Rosedale Library, and many others have all shuttered in recent years. As much as we loved dropping into such places (when else is shopping so perfectly private and yet so easily shared? So relaxing and reassuring and yet rich with hidden possibilities?), the irresistible convenience of letting the internet feed us our interests one click at a time has so far always won out.
Toronto still boasts many wonderful bookstores, including Type, The Monkey’s Paw, Glad Day, Bakka Phoenix, Another Story, and others. But there are now fewer opportunities to let impulse overpower convenience, fewer places to indulge your old eccentricities and passions. Every bookstore is a beacon, and a flickering computer screen is no substitute at all.