The Queen West bookstore has become a neighbourhood staple—and not just for its hand-crafted window displays.
Kalpna Patel hangs gold tinsel in the window of Type Books. This is just the start: when she is finished, the storefront of the Queen West shop will transform into a birthday party extravaganza. A birthday cake will sit atop stacks of books, with delicate paper ornaments dangling above.
Patel’s handiwork will set the stage for one of Type’s well-known crafty window displays, themed around an extra-special celebration: the bookstore’s tenth anniversary.
Located on Queen Street West, across from Trinity Bellwoods Park, Type is an independent bookstore known for its selection in small press books, contemporary fiction, art design collection and even “plotless fiction.”
But most passers by will recognize the shop for its wild and whimsical displays. Next to The Bay’s Christmas windows, they are among the city’s most iconic. It’s only natural that the store’s staff would encourage an all-out birthday party staged in the storefront for such a monumental anniversary.
“For this one they kinda gave me permission to go ‘full Kalpna’ with it,” says Patel, the resident designer of Type’s window displays. She’s planned the entire year’s worth of windows for the store. “I decided each window this year would be celebratory of Type in some way,” she says.
Patel says that most of the time, props for the displays are handmade. She typically works with paper, and transports the delicate props from her studio to the Queen Street shop in “lots of gigantic Ikea bags.” Once at the store, setting up the displays takes about a day—from taking down the old display to completion of the new one.
But the celebration of Type’s anniversary goes beyond the storefront. Type will tout their own special brand of CanLit love all day on April 30, with local writers such as Damien Rogers and Aisha Sasha John working shifts as booksellers in the shop, walking the floor and providing customers with expert recommendations. It’s been confirmed that CanLit legend Michael Ondaatje will also make a rare appearance.
Serah-Marie McMahon, a Type employee for three years, says the bookshop has managed to set itself apart from others in the past decade, making it a neighbourhood institution. For example, the store launched the last two Giller winners—including the André Alexis novel, Fifteen Dogs, which will be sold in a limited-edition run during the anniversary celebration. McMahon credits the mutual success of both the store and those authors with the faith Type has in each book they sell: “It’s not a huge store, we can’t have every book that exists, but we’ll have something that is not what you’ll find everywhere else, and having those things available and championing those things, it’s important. Otherwise, it’s so easy for things to get lost.”
McMahon also attributes the long-term success to the store’s knowledgable employees. “Shopping is not necessarily a social event but it often is. The people who work here have a big part in that.”
And often, customers will come in for recommendations from staff. “The interesting people who work here, the amazing taste they have, and the free rein they’re allowed over their ordering is a big part of the success of the store,” McMahon adds.
That’s because the staff come from a wide range of backgrounds: McMahon was the editor-in-chief of the now-defunct cult Toronto fashion journal Worn. Derek McCormack is a local author. Another employee is part of Pleasence Records. “We have other stuff going on too, and we bring those interests to the store,” McMahon says. “We’re allowed a lot of autonomy.”
McMahon works the floors on Saturdays, and that, she says, is when the store is most alive. “Type is where everyone shops. We get authors, we get tons of people who work in publishing. We have tons of people who are studying lit. This is where people who want to be part of that world come. And then it’s also where they meet each other,” she says. She predicts the tenth-anniversary celebration will be like a macro version of what happens every Saturday.
Referring to the co-owner of Type Books, Joanne Saul, McMahon says she “is like the master, like we’re all little ingredients and she’s stirring us all together.” It seems that when you let book lovers do what comes naturally and sell the products they’re passionate about to people who care, the results can be unexpected and scrumptious—like a birthday cake sitting atop a stack of books.
Type celebrates 10 years in business on April 30, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Derek McCormack is a poet. Torontoist regrets the error.