In this world of e-readers, online retailers, and chain stores, independent bookstores face an ongoing struggle to survive. As a result, many of Toronto’s indie bookshops offer something out of the ordinary. From shops specializing in cookbooks or rare editions, offering wonderlands of children’s literature, or hosting a myriad of literary events, independent bookstore culture in Toronto remains vibrant. Here are ten magical bookstores where bibliophiles in Toronto can get their literary fixes, and more.
Another Story is an indie bookshop located on Roncesvalles, specializing in grassroots social justice, equity and diversity. In addition to organizing diversity-focused book launches and events, it offers a wide selection of activism-centered titles for children, teens, and adults, as well as gifts and magazines. The book collection includes First Nations titles, feminist and environmental books, and publications for alterna-minded families. Another Story is a bookshop bubbling with big ideas.
Tucked in a building that mainly houses private studios and small galleries, Swipe Design is the official bookshop of the Advertising and Design Club of Canada and the Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario. It is not surprising, then, that Swipe offers a wide range of design, art, architecture, and advertising books and publications. There are plenty of magazines and other items to explore – including a selection of kitchenware and other household items. All exquisitely designed, of course! There is also a good-sized children’s section with a mix of books and toys. Mixing theory and technique with creativity and play, Swipe is an unexpected gem of the Toronto indie bookstore world.
The collection in this dignified bookstore in the Financial District mainly consists of high-quality first-edition hardbacks. With the warm lighting, wood paneling, and dark leather armchairs, Ben McNally has the feel of a comfortable, grandfatherly study. Among the many biographies, histories, and non-fiction titles, there is a wall devoted to signed copies, mainly from authors who have participated in the many literary events hosted by Ben McNally – in-store and beyond. This shop is a perfect refuge from the go-getting bustle of Bay Street at its threshold.
A Novel Spot is a cozy little nook located at Humbertown Shopping Centre in Toronto’s west end. The décor has a slightly vintage feel, and two of the four walls are actually ceiling-to-floor windows that let in plenty of light from the mall lobby. Despite being so small, A Novel Spot presents a remarkable diversity of books. In one of the windows hangs a plaque with a quote from Maurice Sendak carved into it: “There is so much more to a book than reading.” This is particularly fitting because the bookshop also hosts regular author visits, a book club, and a frequent buyer program, making it an important community hub.
A beloved fixture of the Toronto indie bookshop scene, TYPE is a must for any book lover. Situated directly across from Liberty Village Park on Queen Street West, TYPE is home to an astute selection of contemporary fiction, art and design books, magazines, and small-press publications. The store is well known for its literary events – including launches, readings, and school book fairs. TYPE also operates a non-profit literacy outreach program, Word-Play, which encourages a love of reading among children. On top of that, there is a small art gallery in the basement of the store, with rotating exhibits that tend to feature local artists and incorporate text or book themes. Note that there are actually two TYPE locations: the flagship shop on Queen West, and one in Forest Hill.
Located in the east end of the city, Ella Minnow houses a beautifully curated collection of children’s books, educational supplies, and eco-friendly toys. The front of the store is a fun little wonderland for young readers, and moving toward the back the collection progresses through to books for teens. There is also a solid selection of Canadian writers, illustrators, and small-press books, and the shop offers school sales, author visits, a weekly story-time session, and summer reading promotions. Best of all, Ella Minnow is home to a little rabbit named Marshmallow.
Art Metropole is a non-profit artist-run center that was initiated in 1974 by the well-known art collective General Idea.The store operates not only as a bookshop and gallery, but also as a venue for the many events, book launches, and conceptual art installations that are frequently presented there. For years the artists of Art Metropole have created and curated their own publications, which now amounts to an ample collection of books, periodicals, and an eclectic array of zines – in addition to other media. Art Metropole continues to be an iconic spot for both book and art lovers.
Since 1931, Acadia has been a bookish utopia for art lovers and book collectors alike. Specializing in art and rare books, Acadia is filled with both contemporary and antiquarian volumes. The shop is comfortably cluttered, and books are absolutely everywhere: the walls are shelved ceiling to floor, crates full of volumes are incorporated into the décor, and you’ll find yourself up to your knees in stacks of books and other publications. Acadia is also home to an extensive collection of paintings and framed maps, making even the walls interesting to explore.
A big stuffed raven perches on an old typewriter in the corner of the front window at The Monkey’s Paw, a haven for rare used books, curios, and the old and unusual. This antiquarian shop stocks mainly obscure and eclectic titles along with odd little miscellaneous items. This is a great little store for when you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for – there is plenty to find and plenty to delight and surprise! The Monkey’s Paw is also home to the delightful Biblio-Mat, a vending machine that dispenses random old books for $2.