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These 10 shops are as much about community-building as they are selling books
Placing an Amazon order from the comfort of your home or downloading a book on your Kindle is a luxury, but also a threat to independent booksellers struggling to keep heads above water in this oversaturated digitized information era. Over the past decade, Toronto has seen the closing of many indie bookstores in the city, most notably World’s Biggest Bookstore, Pages, Toronto Women’s Bookstore The Book Mark – to name a few.
Indie bookstores are an endangered species. They might require more effort to seek out, but many shops offer so much more than an e-retailer. Booksellers who spend their lives reading and curating books rival an Amazon suggestions sidebar any day. It’s a profession not fuelled by promises of fame and riches, but out of passion and the desire to create community spaces. The following Toronto shops not only sell books, but galvanize marginalized communities or serve a niche audience.
Address: 319 College
Target customer: The Collector
A former staple of Mirvish Village, The Beguiling’s new location off College and Spadina has been open for just over a year now. The beloved comic shop now extends across two open-concept rooms where you can uncover rare treasures in the form of graphic novels, manga, collectibles, zines made by local creatives and so much more. Original Honest Ed’s price tags and posters hang around the store as homage. For younger readers, head next door to their sister store, Little Island Comics. Both stores are feminist, queer- and trans-positive and also created a display of sex-education resources in July where 25 per cent of the sales of those books will go toward the LGBT Youth Line.
A Different Booklist also holds various book launches and events in their spacious store.
Address: 777 Bathurst
Target customer: The Culture Junkie
Specializing in African and Caribbean literature, this Bathurst cultural hub strives to create change through education. The walls are not only lined with books, but with art and photography from local Black artists. Currently in the midst of Caribana craziness, clothing racks of festival costumes and tables of decorations can be found around the store. Itah Sadu, one of the store owners, shares that there is an emphasis put on establishing community and getting youth involved and excited about celebrating cultural heritage through literature. “As an independent store, affirming yourself as a meeting place is so important,” says Sadu.
P&P sells zines Japanese-language zines.
Address: 789 Yonge
Target customer: The Young Creative
Located inside the Toronto Reference Library, Page & Panel is a book and gift shop existent in support of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, an annual comic and zine convention held at the library. In addition to their extensive comic selection, artists can submit their zines and have them sold at P&P, creating a safe space for young creative voices to be heard. Many zines deal with important topics, from LGBT themes to mental health. There is even a section for zines by kids as young as 10 sold for a couple of dollars. Some of the neat non-book merch for sale includes tote bags, action figures and art designed by local artists.
In addition to selling LGBTQ books, Glad Day has exceptional coffee.
Address: 499 Church
Target customer: The Fun Lover
The world’s oldest LGBTQ bookstore, (established in 1970), is so much more than just books. With a fully stocked café and bar, board games and weekend dance parties, you might forget you’re actually in a bookstore. The pink-tiled walls and rainbow accents give it a fun vibe. With a colourful and extensive selection of genres, you can find a book on anything you’ve ever been curious about from BDSM and kink content to spirituality to erotica, as well as a plethora of cultural and sexuality-related studies. Glad Day is an essential landmark of Toronto’s queer community.
The store has hosted the cast of Star Wars, George R.R. Martin and other sic-fi/fantasy icons over the years.
Address: 84 Harbord
Target customer: The Sci-fi/Fantasy Buff
Sci-fi and fantasy lovers unite at this Harbord and Spadina mecca. The cozy spot is two floors of geeky goodness, although the basement is currently undergoing renovations. For your intro to sci-fi/fantasy, you can of easily find every staple of the genre from Star Wars to Game Of Thrones, but for more seasoned readers, this place is crawling with hidden gems, many of which can be found in the experienced staff’s carefully crafted picks. The employees are knowledgeable on the subject matter and eager to help you find your next favourite read.
Another Story is passionate about diversifying the books children are reading in schools.
Address: 315 Roncesvalles
Target customer: The Activist
Organize, educate, resist! That’s the fitting motto of this Roncesvalles gem. Specializing in social justice, the shop has always been run with an activist mindset since it opened in 1987. Sadly, beloved owner and friendly neighborhood activist, Sheila Koffman, passed away last year, but the energy of her store still lives on. Sarah Ramsey, former manager of Book City Bloor West, has recently taken over management of the shop, and is fully commited to carrying on Koffman’s vision. Another Story is dedicated to diversity and having everyone’s voice heard, always having a consistent stock of books by Black, Indigenous and queer writers.
A Novel Spot has been open for six years.
Address: 270 The Kingsway
Target customer: The Suburban Reader
Located at Humbertown Shopping Centre in Etobicoke, this tiny spot at 634 square feet, to be exact, is a literal hidden gem. Due to the limited space, every book selected has to be a special one. Surprisingly, the shop has a pretty even spread of genres, including a small selection of children’s and YA books. On their website a message, or plea, reads, “If you hope we stay in the neighbourhood, please do remember to come in and support us,” a subtle reminder to people that their support determines the store’s existence.
Look up when in Balfour – the shop has a particularly beautiful ceiling.
Address: 470 College
Target customer: The Second-Hand Lover
The cozy College spot is crammed with all the used books of your dreams. It is the only used bookstore on the list, making it the most affordable. After relocating from 15 years at College and Clinton, the new location has been operating for only six years. The Balfour name is a treasured one in Toronto. There are books on every topic, particularly art, design, history and cookbooks. There’s usually a $1 bin parked outside so even if you’re “just browsing,” there’s no excuse not to pick up something new, or old.
Courtesy of Type Books
Type has an assortment of trendy tote bags, pins and stationary.
Address: 883 Queen West, 427 Spadina
Target customer: The Literary Fan
Type is a Toronto classic. With two locations in the city, there’s no excuse to not make regular visits to this one-stop shop. The cute and kitschy interior at the Queen location with warm orange walls, paisley wallpaper and glamorous chandelier lighting creates an inviting vibe. Categories are marked up in chalkboard writing so it’s easy to find your next history, music or fiction favourite. Also serving as a venue for author readings and book signings, Type is essential to the Toronto literary community.
The shop takes its name from a split LP by two hardcore bands, The Faith and Void.
Address: 894A College
Target customer: The true DIY supporter
Venture into this basement spot on College and find FAITH/VOID, the DIY punk/hardcore venue meets record store meets bookstore. Started by Ryan Tong of Toronto hardcore band S.H.I.T., the space feels more like someone’s living room than a store. Books and zines can be found past the rows of vinyl and stacks of cassettes. Many of the zines are self-published by independent musicians, writers and artists dealing with content mainly about music, but also showcases of illustration and photography. Simultaneously support local artists and music.
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