Archive for March 2014
This bookstore is now referred to in the past tense at Wikipedia. On today, the World’s Biggest Bookstore’s final day of operation, I visited the location with a friend. The vast empty shelf space surrounded us all. (Thankfully, the 50% off sale seems to have cleared out most of their stock.)
Part-timers were expected to show up at about 4:45 p.m., arriving just in time to take the baton from the day crew. Stacks of books waiting to be shelved sat in piles on the floor next to the cash desk. In the cluttered basement would be several boxes of just-arrived remainders, ready to be hauled upstairs.
The manager, John Snyder, was typically pacing around the store, clutching a thick sheath of print-outs with the latest Penguin order. “Another day, another 50 cents,” he’d sigh, his voice full of mock exasperation.
I grew up during the golden age of Toronto bookstores. When my parents walked us downtown, we invariably made an extended pit stop at Britnell’s, the original Coles, at Yonge and Charles, or The Book Cellar, in Yorkville. On those visits, I would grab a thick picture book—Time Life Goes to the Movies!, or some such thing—and hide in a corner, flipping the pages.
So I leapt at the opportunity to work in a bookstore. The job, as any veteran will tell you, isn’t nearly as romantic as the literary image (see 84, Charing Cross Road, etc.). You get to know lots of books by their covers—I could identify hundreds of authors and titles, never having read any of them. You learn that customers can be annoying (a well-known literary critic came to the cash one day, wondering archly how we organized the fiction section) or outright dishonest (the surreptitious pocketing of merchandise in the stairwell).
The job involved a lot of tidying (to this day, I am unable to be in a bookstore without straightening the display tables) and a certain relentlessness: spring titles, fall titles, calendars. Repeat.