Cole family is selling World’s Biggest Bookstore, a Toronto landmark since 1980, to developer behind the Four Seasons Hotel and Liberty Market Lofts.
The downtown site that is home to the World’s Biggest Bookstore is being sold to a developer, and the bookstore will close in February.
“We’re acquiring it soon. We don’t have any finalized plans or intentions with the property,” said Brian Brown, vice-president of Lifetime Developments, the firm behind Liberty Market Lofts, WaterParkCity and the Four Seasons Hotel.
“It’s a great property, a great location. I really don’t have much information to share at this point … it’s a property that we may just hold in our portfolio,” said Brown.
Property owner David Cole, son of Cole Books founder Jack Cole, who died in 1997, said the sale is pending. He said the story that his father was adamant that the site would always house a bookstore is an urban legend.
“I was with my dad the day he bought it in 1979. My dad would have wanted what was best for his family,” said Cole.
The store at 20 Edward St., a short block from the Eaton Centre, opened in 1980 and was a tourist attraction for many years. A former bowling alley, the space is a somewhat awkward 64,000 square feet over three levels, including an alcove on the second floor.
It’s not actually the world’s biggest bookstore. There is a Barnes & Noble in New York City that is more than twice as large. But it still houses a vast number of books, including a wall of Shakespeare, a wall of poetry and another dedicated to Manga. It has long rows of fiction, including a Star Wars section.
And, like Sam the Record Man, which closed in 2007, and Honest Ed’s, which has been sold to a Vancouver developer, the World’s Biggest Bookstore was a brash, quirky retailer that for a long time anchored Toronto’s retail landscape.
Drew McGowen, vice-president of real estate and development for Indigo Books & Music Inc., said the store was at the end of a lease and the company could not afford the new rent.
Indigo had been leasing the site for about $1.5 million a year, or $24 per square foot.
Indigo is also closing the Runnymede Chapters, built in a former theatre that it preserved and restored at great cost. A Shoppers Drug Mart will take over that location, Bloor St. W. near Runnymede Rd.
“You have to look at your portfolio on an ongoing basis, and we have a very large store at the Eaton Centre,” he said.
“This isn’t us in a mode of shutting down stores. We will be going back out in the market and looking for some net new stores,” said McGowen.
The World’s Biggest Bookstore location must be vacated by April 30. It will close to the public in mid-February.
The store employs about 43 people, many of them long-serving and deeply knowledgeable about books. Indigo will try to find work for them within the existing store network, but it won’t be possible to accommodate all of them, said McGowen.
Jack Cole dropped out of high school to work in a bookstore in the 1930s, according to his obituary. He and his brother Carl went into the book business together. After the war, they hit on the idea of publishing study aids.
The yellow-and-black striped Coles Notes — easy guides to subjects ranging from Shakespeare’s plays to genetics — went on to become the world’s best-selling study guides. Indigo came to own Coles after a long series of mergers and acquisitions in the book industry.
“That’s really sad, I can’t believe it,” said bookstore owner Ben McNally, of McNally Books on Bay St., when he learned the World’s Biggest will close.
“Our biggest problem is Amazon,” McNally said, referring to all bookstores. “My business is pretty good because so many bookstores are going out of business. And I work like a maniac.”