Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Best Bookstores in Toronto Part 3: Independents and Established Names

by: Jeff Cottrill

Toronto is full of small, second-hand bookstores and specialized shops, which are perfect for discriminating book lovers or for those who want to save some cash. And then there are people who just want a fresh, new copy of the latest bestseller or award-winner or who want a lot of up-to-date choices to browse. That’s fine too – T.O. has several first-rate bookstore options that cater to everyday Joes and Janes. Behemoths like Chapters-Indigo can serve those needs easily, of course. But if they’re too slick and corporate for your taste, try one of these alternatives:

Type Books on Queen West may be relatively small, but it more than makes up for that with its selective, high-quality stock: numerous copies of current big sellers share space with titles from local, smaller presses, plus magazines, newspapers, cards and notebooks. The flowery wallpaper and the neat, organized layout help to give the store a casual yet sophisticated ambience, and the back room has a great selection of children’s and travel books. This well-regarded neighbourhood store has a second location on Spadina.

Another local book-selling success story is Book City, an independent franchise that began in the Annex in the mid-1970s and now has four locations throughout Toronto. Mixing a professional approach with a casual, indie vibe, Book City is known for its friendly, helpful staff, a wide-ranging magazine selection and a loyalty program that evens sends you birthday gift certificates. It’s also an ideal place to get sweet bargains, with considerable discounts on hardcover titles and remainder tables packed with gems.

You’ve got less than six weeks left to visit Nicholas Hoare, a St. Lawrence Village staple closing on April 1. This is one of the city’s most elegant and coziest bookstores, inviting you to make yourself at home with plush seating and decorative plants spread out among numerous classy wooden bookcases and stands. The inventory is disappearing, but there’s still enough left for a lengthy browse. When Hoare is gone, you can still check out a mildly similar vibe at Ben McNally. Oddly located in the Financial District, McNally has a friendly, professional atmosphere and a decent selection of fiction and biographies.

There’s another iconic T.O. book shop that may be closing soon: the World’s Biggest Bookstore. Owned by Chapters-Indigo yet with its own flavour, the thirty-two-year-old WBB is like a literary Honest Ed’s, albeit without as many bargains: a full warehouse of fresh new books. With more than twenty kilometres of shelves, it’s a great place for book lovers to lose themselves on a weekend afternoon, with the world’s largest selection of titles in just about every existing category.

It seems you can’t turn a corner in any of Toronto’s major neighbourhoods without coming across a fine bookstore of some kind. Unfortunately, the recent recession has seen the departure of many great independent shops, like Pages, The Book Mark and This Ain’t the Rosedale Library, as well as the pending closing of Nicholas Hoare. You can bid a fond RIP to the wonderful spaces that have come and gone, but don’t forget to celebrate the wealth of stores that remain by continuing to support them.


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