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World’s Biggest: The Unfortunate Death of the Last Big Bookstore and What Happens Next

For a long time I’ve predicted the thinning of bookstores. They’re not going away completely, but you’ll have to drive farther afield to get to one. When I was a sales rep for numerous publishers, the bookstore chains decimated independent bookstores. Most of the little stores I visited with my sample case and catalogues are long gone. Now, it’s the chain’s turn.

Still, I got a shock this week. My shrine is closing.

In the heart of Toronto lies a huge bookstore, three levels and 64,000 square feet. Soon it will empty to the bare walls. The World’s Biggest Bookstore is shutting its doors in February. It was great for treasure hunting. The Indigo book chain’s lease won’t be renewed and tourists and book lovers won’t wander into World’s Biggest anymore. This store, a champion of the paper book, will be no doubt be replaced by high-end condos for people who trade stocks on Bay Street. 

When the sale was announced, the owner of the property (son of the original bookstore owner, Jack Cole, who founded the store in 1980) said the deal is about a real estate sale, not the slow death of the bricks and mortar bookstore. Whether for a massive real estate sale or for other reasons, World’s Biggest is the flagship of the Indigo fleet. It’s going down and will not resurface.

It was a destination bookstore and we won’t see its like again.

Whenever in downtown Toronto, if you could read, you just had to go there to browse. I never left without an armful of books. I took out-of-town friends there to wander the aisles. It was such a great place to hang out and…brace yourself for the unexpected…they didn’t even have to sell coffee, knick knacks and dustables in order to lure people to shop.

There are many other bookstores, of course, but they’re all lookalikes.

In the announcement, the owners of World’s Biggest invited customers to slip down a block or two to visit nearby Indigo locations. I have a chain bookstore down the street from my home that looks exactly like all the others. I don’t need to go to Toronto to get that experience. I don’t even have to drive five minutes to my nearest Indigo bookstore to look at paperbacks. The Starbucks looks busier than the bookstore most days and Amazon’s catalogue is more extensive than any bookstore could possibly offer, anyway.

Amazon is the World’s Biggest now.

My social scene will have to come from Skype and social media. My destination now is my keyboard, my kindle and the ease of the one-click buy. For the Starbucks experience, I’ll set the coffeemaker between the couch and the wood stove. Goodbye, World’s Biggest. I won’t dwell on nostalgia or write a treatise on the tragedy of any more lost bookstores or pen an ode to the smell of book glue.

I write. I read. I stay home. The world turns, turns away, and moves on.

Filed under: Amazon, book marketing, publishing, , , , , , , , ,

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