Vintage Toronto Ads: Brown Betty Tea Rooms

Originally published on Torontoist on January 7, 2015.

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The Globe, February 26, 1926.

During its formative period in the early 20th century, the Arts and Letters Club rented its first permanent space above the Brown Betty Tea Rooms, across from the King Edward Hotel on King Street East. When the restaurant was evicted around 1910 and forced to move one door east, club members contemplated drastic action to maintain a convenient food source. “This took away our means of support and compelled us to have trays fetched downstairs and up again from next door,” journalist Augustus Bridle recounted a decade later, “till one day the Secretary began to hammer the stairway wall with a view to having a hole punched through for better service—and before the hole could be made the landlord kicked us casually into the street.”

For over two decades, the Brown Betty Tea Rooms offered a comfortable space for Torontonians to meet, dine, and talk—and served as a meeting place for groups such as suffragettes, labour associations, political parties, arts clubs, and dancers.

Opened in February 1908 by three cousins who’d trained as nurses at prestigious schools such as Johns Hopkins, it grew from three small rooms and a tiny kitchen into a complex occupying three floors of 42 King Street East. From the start, its cozy decor and spacious surroundings attracted organizations such as the Heliconian Club, which was on the hunt for lecture space. Staff may have also appreciated the atmosphere—during 18th-anniversary celebrations in 1926, it was noted that many waitresses had worked there for more than a decade, while the chef had been there since day one.

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The Globe (left) January 22, 1924; (middle) March 1, 1924; (right) March 21, 1924.

A sketch of the Brown Betty was offered by the Canadian Jewish Review in 1925:

Whether we are conscious of it or not, it seems that we, most of us, possess the artistic sense which can here be gratified. Pleasant surroundings undoubtedly tend to promote that good digestion which should “wait on appetite.” Upstairs there is a “General” Room, and a room where mere man holds full sway, with more easy chairs and gas fires to minister to his comfort; and still another, the “Yellow Room” so that everyone may suit his passing whim. Visitors gravitate naturally toward the little tables set with Brown Betty ware, flower-decorated and tended by waitresses who move swiftly to and from the serving pantries and the kitchen where lies concealed the machinery of Brown Betty popularity.

Among its advertised pleasures was one frowned upon today: an afternoon smoke break for businessmen. “A fine lunch followed by an enjoyable smoke in our perfectly appointed smoking room,” boasted a 1924 advertisement. “Can you imagine a more refreshing interlude in the day’s business life?”

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The Globe, February 26, 1926.

The city’s literati held court at the Brown Betty. The Canadian Authors’ Association held its annual dinner there during the late 1920s, and the Toronto Writers Club booked a private room for its functions. Participants discussed questions of culture, taste, and professional development. During a 1924 Writers Club session, for example, American drama critic Clayton Hamilton offered the following not-altogether-startling advice to budding playwrights: “Nowadays a play is an immediate success or an immediate failure. There is no royal road to success. The play must be good. If not, neither public nor manager wants it.” At a 1928 dinner, Globe sportswriter Austin Cross urged Canadian writers to lighten up and embrace humour in their work. Press clippings reveal that attendees also engaged in discussions of other issues that remain relevant to writers today, including federal copyright law and new forms of journalism.

Fire struck the site twice. An April 1927 blaze resulted primarily in damage to a top-floor kitchen, but a second fire in January 1931 may have had long-term consequences—from that point on, references to Miss Brown Betty and the tea rooms vanished from the local media.

Additional material from the September 11, 1925 edition of the Canadian Jewish Review; the May 28, 1924, December 6, 1924, February 26, 1926, and May 28, 1928 editions of the Globe; and the December 1919 edition of The Lamps.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Gems of Canadiana (and Toronto the Good)

Originally published on Torontoist on February 14, 2012.

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Toronto Star, February 2, 1970.

While browsing a used book store or fundraising book sale, you’ve probably noticed one of the many colourfully-designed covers adorning most volumes of the Coles Canadiana Collection series. Originally published as budget-priced paperbacks by the Coles bookstore chain, the series’ resurrection of long-out-of-print tomes in their original format, without any modern contextualization, was the 1970s equivalent of Google Books or the Internet Archive.

The series had been on the mind of Coles vice-president Jack Cole for several years before it was launched in late 1969 with the titles shown in today’s Vintage Ad. Cole had collected the original editions of the works he republished, some of which had cost him $1,000 each. The response surprised him: all three titles sold quickly in the chain’s 35 stores. Brisk sales coupled with demand from other booksellers to carry the series urged a second printing that was produced within months for distribution across Canada. “People are interested in the past of their country,” Cole told the Star in early 1970. “We’re very pleased with our own identity. It’s one picture. It has to do with people not wanting to sell their natural resources across the border. It has to do with people being sick and tired of being swamped by the people to the south.” The upswing in interest in Canadian history led other publishers to create similar series, such as Mel Hurtig’s hardcover Canadiana Reprint Series and Peter Martin Associates’ collection of 19th-century Ontario-county atlases.

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Toronto’s past was well-represented in the Coles Canadiana Collection. Besides C.S. Clark’s late Victorian era social study of the city, reprints included the diaries of Elizabeth Simcoe as assembled by Telegram publisher John Ross Robertson, a two-volume biography of William Lyon Mackenzie published shortly after the rebel mayor’s death, a history of the Humber Valley up to 1913, and an 1891 book spotlighting Toronto Old and New. We’d like to think that these no-frills editions helped their readers develop a better appreciation of what Toronto was like in the past, even if later publications about the same topics refuted the information provided in the series.

Additional material from the February 26, 1970 edition of the Toronto Star.

BEHIND THE SCENES

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A sampling of my copies of Coles Canadiana Collection titles. They frequently turn up at fundraising book sales and usually won’t set you back much. The main drawbacks are lack of modern contextual introductions and occasional poor reproductions of the original text. There are some titles in this series, especially the ones relating to Toronto (I’m looking at you, Of Toronto the Good), that would benefit from well-designed updated editions.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Hobnobbing with Authors

Originally published on Torontoist on January 17, 2012.

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The Telegram, May 24, 1971.

There once was a time when newspaper book editors could relax on a tower of bestsellers, comforted by the knowledge that their section received full blessing from the bean counters.

As today’s ad notes, the revamped Telegram books page featured editor George Anthony’s column on general notes from the publishing world, a selection of current reviews, and columns dedicated to mystery, paperbacks, and children’s literature. Apart from the columnists, the reviewers were drawn from across the paper’s staff, ranging from entertainment writer Sid Adilman to newsman Peter Worthington.

One publication unimpressed by Anthony’s selection of friends to hobnob with was Books in Canada, which devoted a page of its debut issue to the revamp. That all of the headlining authors and books piled under Anthony were American stuck in the magazine’s craw. Even the book he was reading, The Sensuous Man (whose prime advice, according to its review in the Telegram, was to watch monkeys copulate at the zoo), was from south of the border. The article noted that the combined Canadian sales of the seven listed authors’ most recent books were less than Pierre Berton’s previous opus, The National Dream. With bookselling in Canada calculated to be more difficult than in the United States, “is it any wonder that Canadian publishers beat their heads against the wall when they see valuable newspaper space being devoted to the latest imports?”

The article’s parting shot:

We are left to speculate: will he move into a new social sphere where he might “hobnob” with Norman Mailer, William Gass, and Kate Millett, or, horror of horrors, might he find that Canadian writers like Pierre Berton, Farley Mowat, Margaret Laurence, Peter Newman, Leonard Cohen, not only sell more books in this country than do his American friends, but are also willing to hobnob with newspaper critics.

We browsed several of the Telegram’s book sections from the spring of 1971. Though Anthony’s column mixed gossip from both sides of the border and the genre columns often discussed Canadian books, few domestic titles were featured in the main review section. We suspect the primary reasons were reader interest in foreign books and limited room to fill (there was barely any white space on the pages we reviewed).

When the Telegram folded in late 1971, Anthony moved to the Sun, where he served as the tabloid’s original entertainment editor before beginning a long career in the television industry.

Additional material from the May 1971 edition of Books in Canada.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Here is the Books in Canada piece criticizing this ad campaign.

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And here’s a sample of what the Tely’s book page looked like, taken from the April 24, 1971 edition. Click on the image for a larger version.

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Book City Closes a Chapter

Originally published on Torontoist on January 14, 2014.

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Globe and Mail, November 3, 1979 (left), November 17, 1979 (right).

Another one bites the dust.

Yesterday afternoon, Book City announced that after a 38-year run, its flagship store at 501 Bloor Street West will be closing this spring. “The lease was up, and we agonized over the decision,” general manager Ian Donker told Quill & Quire, “but sadly it didn’t make much sense to continue.” It will be the second iconic Toronto book retailer to close this year, after the World’s Biggest Bookstore shuts its tills next month.

Born in the Netherlands, store founder Frans Donker came from a family that ran a publishing firm. “I am third generation in the book business if you count my grandfather Willem,” he told the Star in 2001. “He was a liberal Christian minister who wrote bad novels about poor farmers’ sons falling in love with the girl in the mansion.” Donker moved to Canada in 1969 and worked for the Classic Bookshops chain and publisher Fitzhenry and Whiteside before opening Book City with his wife Gini in 1976.

The store found its niche selling a wide variety of non-mainstream paperbacks and quality remainders. Early ads touted its selection of mystery and sci-fi titles, and deals that weren’t restricted to weekend specials. As one ad boasted, “You can come down to Book City and pick up an armful of bargains any day. Or any evening.” Spread across two floors connected by narrow staircases, browsers were pointed upstairs by a sketch of a dapper bearded gent. For a child discovering bookstores, it was fun to run across the creaky upper floor. For adults, the store provided a relaxing place to browse new titles and explore the latest cheap finds.

Book City also developed a reputation for supporting Canadian literature, through sponsoring prizes and stocking up-and-coming authors. In a 1992 interview, Donker described how the store marketed Nino Ricci’s The Lives of the Saints:

Nino Ricci had been in my store, a bit shy, but very likeable, telling us that his book was coming out. A small publisher came to us later and presented the book. I read a chapter, one of my buyers read a chapter, and we agreed, this is darn good stuff. So we decided to put ourselves behind the title, and instead of five books for the shelves, we bought 50 for the tables, and recommended it to people who came into the store. They too liked it and told friends, and it started to snowball. I completed the book, loved it, and promoted it even more. Sadly enough, not enough booksellers supported it.

To celebrate the store’s 15th anniversary in 1991, Donker commissioned a novella starring writer Howard Engel’s detective Benny Cooperman. Engel’s story, The Whole Megillah, included a scene in which the suspects met on the upper floor of Book City.

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Globe and Mail, October 13, 1979 (left), October 20, 1979 (right).

During its first decade, Book City frequently violated provincial Sunday shopping laws. While David Mirvish sold remainders on the Lord’s Day thanks to Mirvish Village’s tourist designation, Donker was fined whenever he opened his doors. For a time in the early 1980s, Donker exploited a loophole that allowed businesspeople to declare Saturday as their Sabbath. The result: the main floor was open Monday through Saturday, while the upstairs became The Book Loft, and operated Sunday through Friday. Until the laws were fully relaxed, Book City received periodic warnings to play nice.

Book City became a chain when it opened its second location at 663 Yonge Street in 1984. The number of branches has varied over the years—at its height, six stores operated across the city, and regular warehouse sales took place in Leaside. The chain held its own during the onslaught of superstores like Chapters, while other independents folded. Donker prided himself on his close relationships with suppliers, and believes Chapters harmed itself by not cultivating such ties (they “destroyed publishers by demanding every last nickel”).

The chain’s three remaining locations at 348 Danforth Avenue, 1950 Queen Street East, and 1430 Yonge Street will stay open. Expect plenty of reminiscences over the next few months, as the Annex store joins the list of local bookstores that will live on in customers’ memories.

Additional material from the November 3, 1979 edition of the Globe and Mail, the June 1992 edition of the Metropolitan Toronto Business Journal, and the June 18, 1977, January 12, 1981, October 23, 1991, August 8, 2001 editions of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

As of early 2018, Book City is back up to four locations, adding one in Bloor West Village.

Lost Words

This post merges two pieces originally published on Torontoist on January 6, 2012 and January 12, 2012.

Ballenford BooksDavid Mirvish BooksPagesThis Ain’t The Rosedale Library. All established book stores that have closed within the past four years. With The Book Mark joining that list, Dragon Lady Comics shutting its physical store, and Glad Day Bookshop up for sale, it feels as if Toronto is experiencing a cycle of closures similar to the late 1990s.

Back then, blame initially fell upon big box stores like Chapters and Indigo; now it’s online retailers and e-books. In both cases these big bads were only part of the problem: increased rent appears to be a critical element of the current closure cycle, the exact opposite of the low-priced leases that aided the high number of bookstore openings during the 1970s. Cold commentators might say that technology is making bookstores obsolete, or that owners should only blame themselves when their business ends, but whenever any long-running store closes, it feels as if a reassuring piece of the local landscape has gone with it.

Here is a sampling of past bookstores that left their mark on Toronto and its readers.

Albert Britnell

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Globe and Mail, December 15, 1979.

“Count yourself a Torontonian if Grandfather shopped here,” proclaimed Toronto Life in its November 1970 guide to local bookstores. This was no exaggeration, as the Britnell family had been involved in the city’s book trade since Albert arrived from England during the 1880s. Initially known for its selection of collectible Canadiana, the store later built its reputation on the special order system developed by Albert’s spats-wearing son Roy. Though the shop closed in 1999, its name still sits above the Starbucks that currently occupies the building.

Hyman’s Book & Art Shop

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Ben-Zion Hyman in front of Hyman’s Book & Art Shop, 1925. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 119, Item 78.

“The shop was open from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. every day except Saturday and had a mimeograph machine, pop cooler, newspapers and a bar mitzvah registry. It sold Yiddish and Hebrew books, Judaica, tickets for the Standard Theatre, stationery and school supplies.”—Rosemary Donegan, Spadina Avenue (Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 1985).

Located at 371 Spadina Avenue, Hyman’s (later known as Hyman and Son) operated for nearly 50 years.

North Toronto Book Store

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North Toronto Book-Store, July 1922. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 296.

Either the woman mailing the morning headline from the Globe is thrilled to be in front of the camera, or she’s frustrated with the photographer’s numerous requests to center the poster.

Lichtman’s

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Lichtman’s News Stand, sometime between 1945 and 1966. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 1, Item 130.

From the moment he arrived in Toronto from the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the age of 14, Sammy Lichtman was in the newspaper business. One account indicates that shortly after stepping off the train that brought him here, Lichtman was hawking papers on downtown streets. He eventually entered the distribution and newsstand business that evolved into a chain of book and magazine shops. As the big box stores cut into Lichtman’s business, debt mounted until ownership called it a day in 2000.

Eaton’s

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The Globe, November 3, 1934.

Before chains like Coles, Classic Book Shop and WH Smith, department stores were among the biggest booksellers in Toronto. There were even attempts, as this ad from Eaton’s shows, to promote Canadian authors.

SCM Book Room

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Rochdale College, March 1971. Photo by Leo Harrison. York University Archives, Toronto Telegram Photo Collection, Citation 1974-002/168.

Given the chaos surrounding Rochdale College during its dying days, it’s tempting to believe that some of the craziness made its way to one of the building’s most well-respected tenants, the SCM Book Room. But by the end of 1974, disputes between executives of the Student Christian Movement and store manager Bob Miller over the mission of the store had grown nasty. Should, as some SCM members argued, the store take a stronger stand on social issues and better reflect the ideals of the organization, or, as Miller believed, should the store continue to manage its own affairs as it had for years?

For nearly 20 years Miller, a reverend in the United Church, built the business’s reputation as the go-to place in Toronto for academic and religious works. Forget bestsellers: as Miller told the Globe and Mail in April 1968, “we’re interested in the scholarly type of books less accessible elsewhere, books for which there’s a market, but not a mass market.” According to historian Ramsay Cook, “it would be impossible to estimate the contribution that Bob Miller’s SCM Book Room has made to the intellectual and cultural life not only of Toronto, but of the country at large.

Despite mediation by poet Dennis Lee, personality clashes worsened. Miller and nine of the SCM Book Room’s 15 employees left the business in the spring of 1975. Later that year Miller established his own book room further east on Bloor Street, which continues to operate. A store under the SCM banner carried on until at least the late 1980s.

Times Square Book Store

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A later incarnation of the Time(s) Square Book Store, circa 1970s. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 3, Item 198.

As Yonge Street slid toward the seedy reputation it earned during the 1970s, adult book stores began filling its storefronts. Frequently raided by the morality squad, who quietly asked customers to leave while arresting the clerks, shops like the Times Square(which appears to have dropped the “s” by the time this photo was taken) serviced patrons looking for thrills in the pages of titles like French Spice, Mr. Cool, and Sizzle. Browsers who didn’t find the selection titillating enough could always watch burlesque dancers elsewhere on the Yonge strip.

Times Square’s penchant for skirting Sunday shopping laws earned it a profile in the September 19, 1970 edition of the Star, which depicted a typical Lord’s Day afternoon at the store:

A young man with shoulder-length blond hair perches on a stool by the cash register. He takes a $5 bill from an older man with nervous eyes and slips a plastic-wrapped magazine called Swappers into a plain brown bag. “Every adult person should have the right to decide what he can and what he can buy, any day of the week,” the young man says after the customer leaves the store. “Sure we’re open Sundays, but we’re not keeping anyone away from church. We cater to a different crowd.”

About Books

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Queen Street West, sometime between 1966 and 1972. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 124.

During the 1970s, Queen West filled with used bookstores. The business offering “new books” at 280 in this photo was later occupied by About Books. Co-owner Larry Wallrich had been around: during the 1960s, he ran a shop in New York’s Greenwich Village that became a poet’s hangout then spent a few years selling books around Europe. Based on advice from a bookseller in Cleveland, Wallrich came to Queen West in 1976 and quickly fell in love with Toronto. In an interview with Books in Canada seven years later, Wallrich noted that the city had “more good, general second-hand book shops than there are in New York and London—and that’s of course totally economic because rents are still reasonable enough here than you can have good general book shops in the centre of town.” He also felt “more socially useful in Toronto as a bookseller than I’ve ever felt in my life before.”

Edwards Books & Art

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Globe and Mail, October 31, 1987.

Edward Borins learned how to buy and sell high quality remainders at low prices while managing David Mirvish Books during the 1970s. Borins and his wife Eva established their own store at 356 Queen Street West in 1979, which eventually grew into a small chain. As Now noted in a March 1989 profile, the original location “opened just at the time when the area was being revitalized by a new wave of artists and businesses.”

The chain fought a lengthy battle with the provincial government over Sunday shopping laws that led to around 300 charges. Edwards ran into troubles with its suppliers that played a role into the chain’s demise in 1997 and, thanks to tighter credit limits publishers imposed in the aftermath, negatively affected other local booksellers. The Borinses moved to Santa Fe and ran Garcia Street Books for a decade before selling it in 2011.

The Book Cellar

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Books in Canada, May 1971.

Despite its name, The Book Cellar only spent one year operating below street level when it opened in 1961. The store quickly gained a reputation for carrying the largest selection of magazines in the city, with titles ranging from TV Guide (one of their poorest sellers) to the Journal of the Institute for Sewage Purification. Store alumni included writers like Barbara Amiel and Paul Quarrington. Though there were several locations, the main one was 142 Yorkville Avenue, where browsers congregated between 1968 and 1997. The store’s demise was blamed on troubles receiving stock after publishers tightened credit limits following the end of Edwards Books & Art, and on declining street traffic in Yorkville.

A Map of Downtown Toronto Booksellers, 1974

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Quill & Quire, May 1974.

A&A Books & Records

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1960s postcard of Yonge Street. Image courtesy of Chuckman’s Other Collection.

While most people remember A&A as a music chain, the company’s flagship location at 351 Yonge Street began as a bookstore in the mid-1940s. While records became the focus of the business, the book section found its niche by selling textbooks to Ryerson students and those studying medicine at U of T.

Following the sale of A&A by founders Alice and Mac Kenner to Columbia Records in the early 1970s, drastic cuts were made to the section’s size and selection. The reductions were carried out poorly, leading to complaints from customers who couldn’t find the titles they wanted and publishers who received more returns than anticipated. By the time corporate decided to exit the book business in 1974, its sales were around 10 percent mass market titles, 90 percent textbooks.

The Children’s Book Store

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Quill & Quire, October 1980.

During a quarter of a century in business, The Children’s Book Store received plenty of praise for its large selection of material for young readers. This ad gives a sense of the store’s programming following its move to 604 Markham Street in 1980. In its final years on Yonge Street in North Toronto, the store faced expanded children’s sections at recently opened branches of Chapters and Indigo to its south. When the store closed in January 2000, its library and wholesale divisions were sold to a company largely owned by Chapters.

Longhouse Books

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Globe and Mail, September 25, 1979 (left), December 15, 1990 (right).

It was a concept predicted to fail in a hurry. Who was crazy enough to stock a bookstore with nothing but Canadian titles? Yet Longhouse Books proved the naysayers wrong when it opened at 630 Yonge Street north of Wellesley in 1972.

Partners Beth Appeldoorn and Susan Sandler opened the store out of anger. “There were Canadian books around, but they weren’t given the emphasis they deserved,” they told the Globe and Mail in a 1995 interview. “That little Canadiana section was insulting. We jumped in at the right time. But we did think about it, and we had good advice. We were not totally stupid, but we probably were crazy.”

Of the many launches held at Longhouse, the owners felt Margaret Laurence’s appearance to promote The Diviners was the most memorable:

Margaret had never done a launch in her life because she was always very nervous, and Margaret didn’t take crowds. But there was a crowd of people. Somebody came in and said, “What movie is showing?” We had to drag Margaret right away downstairs to the basement to give her a Valium. She never knew it was Valium. She thought it was an aspirin. But she was so shaky. She came back up and did a fabulous two hours of signing and talking. We put her behind a little table with chairs so she could hold onto the table.

Appeldoorn and Sandler sold the store in 1989, which promptly moved to 497 Bloor Street West. It closed six years later.

Tyrrell’s Book Shop

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King Street East, looking east to Victoria Street, 1910. Tyrrell’s can be seen at the far right. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 7345.

When Tyrrell’s Bookshop was sold to British retailer W.H. Smith in 1958, one question was what would happen to the ancient clock that had been there since founder William Tyrrell’s early days in business? “It was probably not bought on the morn that the old man was born,” wrote the Globe and Mail’s William Arthur Deacon, “but it certainly was ‘ever his pride and joy.’” To relief of store staff, the new owners decided to maintain it.

William Tyrrell entered the bookselling world as a 16-year old clerk shortly after his arrival from England in 1882. Twelve years later he opened his first store on King Street East at Yonge Street. The store later moved to 820 Yonge, across the street from longtime competitor Albert Britnell. Tyrrell didn’t let friendship stand in the way of what he believed he should sell; reportedly he refused to stock books written by friends if the work’s political slant was not to his liking.

Following Tyrrell’s retirement during World War II, the store was run by Phyllis Atwood until the sale to W.H. Smith. Deacon noted that “her friends will all be glad that she is shedding her responsibilities and ensuring her own future.” The store operated for a few more years under the Tyrrell’s banner.

Village Book Store

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Books in Canada, May 1971.

Deriving its name from Toronto’s “Greenwich Village” along Gerrard Street between Yonge and University, Martin Ahvenus opened Village Book Store in 1961. The shop gave strong support to Canadian poets—as Toronto Life noted in 1970, Ahvenus “encourages, amuses, and sells them, and they adorn his walls with graffiti.” It was also noted that the Village was “where the secondhand book dealers gather to talk shop on Thursday nights.” The store moved to 239 Queen Street West in the early 1970s and became one of the busiest used book stores along the strip.

Final owner Eric Wellington provided a long list of reasons for the store’s closure in January 2000: rising taxes, eroding profits, changing demographics of Queen West, chains, exhaustion from working every day, and a notice that TTC was going to repair the streetcar tracks. Wellington found that the Queen West crowd “has gotten much younger and they are a digital generation. They don’t read.”

Writers & Co

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Now, March 27, 1986.

A pair of legacies for North Toronto-based Writers & Co.:

  1. When CBC Radio needed a title for a new literary show, it asked owner Irene McGuire for permission to use her store’s name. The choice worked, as the series is still on the air.
  2. The store’s original location was 2094½ Yonge Street. The number intrigued British author Julian Barnes. As longtime manager (and, later, owner) Winston Smith told the Star when the store closed in 1999, Barnes “told us he had never encountered a ½ address before and he was interested in the phenomenon.” The author was inspired by the address to title his next novel A History Of The World in 10½ Chapters.

UPDATE

Of the stores mentioned in the introduction, Glad Day is still in business. As the big box stores falter, smaller bookstores have revived here and there in Toronto, though there are closures for some of the reasons mentioned in this piece (for example, Eliot’s Bookshop on Yonge Street cited increased property taxes as a factor in speeding up its closure in 2017).

There are deeper looks at Albert Britnell and The Book Cellar in the “Past Pieces of Toronto” series I wrote for OpenFile, which will soon appear on this site.