An adventure to find the top used bookstores in Toronto
[Original article written on July 27, 2015]
As much as we all seem to be moving towards ordering everything we need online, there’s just something about spending a few hours at a physical, brick-and-mortar bookstore trying to find that perfect book which sites like Amazon simply can’t replace. Better yet: spending a few hours at a physical, brick-and-mortar bookstore with prices at half of what they would normally be elsewhere. Used bookstores have a certain charm to them which is hard for anyone to deny and present an opportunity to discover something unique which places like Chapters fail to replicate. This list (in no particular order) will hopefully guide you through some of the nooks, crannies, and ladders of Toronto’s best used bookstores.
BMV Books is the name of not one, not two, not four, but three of some of the best used bookstores in Toronto. Given that this is the only used bookstore I’ve visited in Toronto, it’s likely what I will judge all others against. With its notable interior style and well-organized, up-to-date selection of books, the feel of BMV borders on the line between a Chapters and a traditional used bookstore, but the prices are certainly on the traditional used bookstore side of the line.
After the first location opened in 1997 at Yonge and Dundas, two more locations have cropped up with one located at Yonge and Eglinton and one, the end-all-be-all flagship location, located at Bloor and Spadina which boasts four entire floors populated by thousands of books from every genre you would ever want to read, earning it the title of “Canada’s largest bookstore for pre-loved and discounted books.” The staff is always happy to help out and have a conversation about book-related topics. Alas, I digress. Enough about BMV, this is supposed to be about exploring new stores. Onwards!
According to one of its happy-to-help employees, the owner of Re: Reading has wanted to open his very own used bookstore ever since he was a child and he finally made the choice to do so in opening this new staple of the Danforth area. The owner’s touch is hard to miss as you browse through the store, what with the display case filled with Star Wars memorabilia, photographs taken by the owner on display throughout the store and available for purchase, and a rack near the entrance populated with recommended books. If you’re looking for a break from the cramped, musty atmosphere of most used bookstores, this well-organized and spacious shop featuring a comfortable couch is where you should head.
Located at Yonge and Wellesley, Eliot’s Bookshop is comprised of three floors filled with books in a building that feels more at home in a Harry Potter movie than in downtown Toronto. With three floors comes a huge selection of books and with a huge selection of books comes the need for a way to organize the chaos. At Eliot’s, books are organized into hyper-specific categories which results in entire shelves dedicated to things like “Rodents” or “Scotland” — not the level of specificity found in most locations.
With what may be the cutest story behind the name of the used bookstores on this list, Ten Editions Books makes its home at a humble street corner near Bloor and Spadina. According to the owner of this 25-year-old shop, the name comes from the fact that her mother had ten children, including the owner, and so were her mother’s “ten editions” — I told you it was cute. The absence of any sign makes it feel a little bit like a secret from the rest of the world when you enter the store, even with the bold blue paint coating the exterior. With shelves stocked from floor to ceiling (thus requiring a ladder to browse) and with boxes of books on the floor and sitting on top of the lower shelves, books seem to occupy most of the space at Ten Editions and it leaves you wondering if any more books could possibly be added to the selection.
Located below street level near Bloor and Spadina, Seekers Books is a true hidden gem of Toronto’s used bookstore scene that really requires some… seeking… to find. There are plenty of books to be found in the many sections (including a dedicated Kid’s Room) of this shop. With owners constantly chatting with each other and with regulars who stop by, you’ll never feel bored or isolated as you peruse the shelves to find your next read.
Having recently moved from their previous location, Doug Miller Books now makes its home more or less exactly where it used to be — across the street from the old location near Bloor and Bathurst. This pick has a unique and noticeable personality very much representative of the owner which makes for a great experience. With dozens of bins of Lego sharing the space with the books for sale and with an adorable pet bunny (Is there such thing as a pet bunny that isn’t adorable?) making its home near the front desk, the owner’s touch is evident.
The owner claims that he’s always loved reading and began collecting books until eventually deciding to run a business selling books roughly 30 years ago. With these 30 years of experience under his belt, he sure knows the ins and outs of the used bookstore business and is happy to discuss his views if you ask. When asked, he said that, “Despite everything to the contrary, books are more popular than ever.” Elaborating on this, he explained that there are actually more people buying books now than in the past but that the apparent suffering of the industry indicated by the closing of many used bookstores has more to do with the rising overhead of running such a business and has nothing to do with people’s desire to read. So, prove him right and make your way over to find some books and, who knows, you might even be able to find something you like in the 123 bookshelf — my name for the large shelf with books all priced at $1, $2 or $3.
With a slightly fancier atmosphere than most used bookstores, Balfour Books has found itself a new home at Bathurst and College after having moved from its original location down the street. Scrabble tiles are used to label the shelves throughout the store. Although typical genres can still be found at the store, Balfour prides itself on selling books mainly focused on arts, design, children and cooking… especially cooking, and claims that it is the go-to place for chef’s references in the city. Make sure to mark March 22–25 on your calendar and set aside some splurging money because this is when Balfour’s annual half-off sale takes place and you definitely won’t want to miss it.
Have a favourite used bookstore that’s not on this list? Let me know in the comments!