World’s Biggest Bookstore’s closing to spell the end of a dishevelled era

November 21, 2013 5:19 PM

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The confirmed sale of the site of the World’s Biggest Bookstore in Toronto did not come as much of a surprise on Thursday — after all, it was reported in June 2012 that the lease would not be renewed at the end of 2013 after about 33 years.

A permanent closure has been scheduled for February 2014 as the building becomes the property of Lifetime Developments, which has no firm plans, although a high-rise condominium is anticipated.

But the 64,000 square foot store was not particularly well-loved by Indigo Books & Music after it swallowed rival Chapters Inc. in 2001. Chapters had taken shape seven years earlier when the Coles and Smithbooks chains were acquired to help shape a new era of book superstores.

The building that once housed a 64-lane bowling alley, which continued to be owned by Canadian mass-market book retailing pioneer Jack Cole’s family, was part of the bargain.

The store was popular enough upon its opening in November 1980 that no one imagined ever needing to incorporate a coffee stand in order to stay solvent. An advertising campaign from 1999 tried to play up the kitsch, however, as the WBB was forced to differentiate itself from the Chapters and Indigo model.

Some related signs stuck around for a decade or more amidst all the typography from different eras of the store along with fonts from different eras of Chapters and Indigo.

During its latter years, the WBB attempted to take on a quirky character, with a focus on science fiction, graphic novels and DVD sets of British television shows along with a significant stock of French-language titles.

Margaret Atwood also used the store to show off her LongPen virtual book signing technology with Conrad Black in October 2007 — during the period in which he was not allowed to leave the U.S. while awaiting trial.

Based on a 2008 visit to the store, though, the best-selling book in the history of the WBB might have been a reflection of the downtown clientele: Mind Over Mood.


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