The Ghosts of Retail Past

With the news of the recent sale of Honest Ed’s and the imminent closing of the World’s Biggest Bookstore, I’ve become nostalgic.

photo courtesy of Bill Smith Photography

photo courtesy of Bill Smith

When I first moved to Toronto to attend university, I started each school year in September with an annual pilgrimage to Honest Ed’s, to stock up on necessities: lightbulbs, toilet paper, kitchen gadgets and school supplies.  Their bargain prices could stretch a “starving student’s” dollar.

When I was a kid, our annual family vacation to Toronto over March Break always included a visit to the World’s Biggest Bookstore.  I have a profound love of reading and of books – and of bookstores.  You won’t find a Kindle in my bag.  But these days I am guilty of shopping and buying many of my books online.  So I own up to my responsibility for contributing to the demise of an old friend.

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As a Ryerson student back in the 80s, I probably spent more time at Sam the Record Man than at the library.  There was no iTunes back then.  There was only one way to get music and Sam’s was a mecca for vinyl.  The excitement I remember, heading home with a newly released album under my arm can’t be duplicated or described to a generation who download their mp3s straight onto their iPods.

Sam the Record Man

There’s no mystery as to why these stores are disappearing.  It’s for the same reasons that “video killed the radio star” and the world’s rainforests are vanishing : technology, modernization, progress.  These places and their products are becoming obsolete and outdated by today’s retail standards.  Their gaudy storefronts with flashing lights are taking up valuable real estate that developers are eager to convert into more condos.  But to a kid who grew up outside of Toronto, these were the bright lights of the big city.

So to anyone who’s never paid a visit to this holy trinity of retail icons I encourage you to go while you still can, to catch a firsthand glimpse of a vanishing species. It’s already too late for Sam the Record Man which turned off the lights in 2007. Honest Ed’s is rumoured to be around for another 3 years, but the World’s Biggest Bookstore will close its doors in February.

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