I have always been a voracious reader, consuming the short stories in grade school textbooks instead of listening in class or staying up into the wee hours of the morning to finish one more chapter. My shelves are full, bowing under the weight of series and single novels, with still more books piling up on the floor as my “to be read” list gets longer. But when I finished my English degree at university, I was burnt out from reading. Working two jobs didn’t help the situation as I had precious little time to do things outside of eating and sleeping. When the pandemic hit Canada and I was laid off, I found myself with the time and energy to rediscover my love of books. Naturally, when I first came to the Danforth this year, the stores that caught my eye were the ones filled with books. As I explored the neighbourhood I noticed that, not only were there several bookstores within a short distance of each other, they were all locally owned, small bookstores. There wasn’t an Indigo to be seen. I wanted to share my exploration and help you rediscover the Danforth’s wonderful bookstores and see what sets them apart from the big guys.
Children’s French Book Corner
I started my journey on the east side of the Danforth, at Children’s French Book Corner, a small, locally owned and operated bookstore that sells French books for children ranging from toddlers to 15 years of age. When I entered the store, I was greeted by Lynda Grimard-Watt, a sweet woman who has made it her business to help both parents and children find books to learn and read French. Though the shop was small, made up of two white rooms connected by a doorway, it is well stocked, housing workbooks, graphic novels, classic French tales, and translated titles as well. Lynda was friendly and incredibly knowledgeable about her stock, explaining how she assists her customers, local libraries, and school boards to ensure that both francophone and French immersion children have everything they need to learn and be successful. She also sells French cards made by a local artist fit for any occasion. Despite not having an online shop, Lynda explained how she stayed connected with her customers by offering video chat appointments to get personalized recommendations and views of her selection so everyone can keep reading.
Circus Books and Music
Heading towards the west side of the Danforth, I came across Circus Books and Music. While the interior is perhaps not as colourful as a circus, it did live up to its name; housing walls covered in books and various types of music throughout the store. While the store was wide and open, making every shelf accessible, finding a book is like a treasure hunt; there is gold to be found among the almost ceiling-high stacks on the walls. From graphic novels, to fiction, to books on art, and a children’s section as well, there is something for any reader. The other major feature of the store is its wide selection of music. From the centre display housing records on the left and CDs on the right, to the display of old tapes by the front cash, there is a nostalgic feeling that couples with finding music. The store even sells band t-shirts to round out their music side, as well as a collection of DVDs and VHS tapes to complete the nostalgia tour.
Re: Reading Used Books
Further down the Danforth I came upon Re: Reading Used Books. In a day and age of reducing our impact on the planet, Re: Reading Used Books has been ahead of the curve for some time. A staple on the Danforth since 2009, Re: Reading has always been about reconnecting books (and movies) with readers and giving them a second life. Wandering through the tall, black bookshelves, I found not just a vast selection of books from hardcovers to paperbacks romance to horror, fiction to biography, but also so much more to look at. A gargoyle tucked in the horror section, a newspaper feature posted at the end of a stack, and a painting of a red lady on the wall that leads to the dedicated science fiction section at the back of the store. The little details, like the map of well-known fictional destinations such as Narnia, Hogwarts, or Discworld, or the warm red paint job made this store feel like a special place, like somewhere I had always belonged.
Just down the street sat The Scribe. While it may be a small store, that didn’t make it any less impressive than the other places I had visited. Dedicated to selling rare and collectible editions of beloved titles, the shelves were lined with plastic covered books in varying categories and stacks of art prints rounded out the collection. A small table at the front of the store held small pieces of maps, or diagrams of frog anatomy, drawing my eye to all the other art prints on the walls and in boxes further in the store. At the back of the store was a collection of more rare and expensive items, like several first edition signed copies of books, memorial editions, and one first edition copy of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace from 1886. I was pleasantly surprised to find that even though the books were collectibles, it didn’t mean they were all old classics. The selection was wide; ranging from children’s titles to fantasy titles by authors like Neil Gaiman, to pulp genre paperbacks. Despite the small size, I could tell the store was well-loved by the amount of people crowding in.
My last stop was the closest thing to a chain bookstore on the Danforth: Book City. It is one of four locations, all found in Toronto. Book City felt like the place for all my big bookstore needs, like newer releases, TikTok recommendations, and all the little non-book items I would find in a larger store. They have a wide selection, which can be easily browsed in their spacious shop. There are books on almost all the walls and table displays, creating aisles. Calendars hang from the ceiling like art, tarot cards line the counters at the front of store, tote bags decorate the front window and cubbies are filled with book themed t-shirts. Despite being one of the bigger stores I visited, Book City felt more like visiting my local corner store, covering all my needs, and offering me little extras at the checkout that I didn’t know I wanted.
Despite the lockdowns that have prevented in-store shopping for so many businesses during this pandemic, these little locally owned bookstores have been able to keep their heads above the water and reopen their doors to the community. I know not everyone was as lucky as me during the past two years, to be able to use lockdowns as a time to recharge and rediscover passions that have been left to the wayside. But the thriving bookstores of the Danforth are proof that the community is still rediscovering their passions by opening a book.