It’s the final curtain for the iconic Chapters bookstore in Toronto, often in the top ten lists of the most beautiful bookstores in the world.
There was a lot of controversy when Chapters bought the old Runnymede theatre, but instead of bulldozing it they renovated it, restoring the building to its former glory and creating a shopping experience beyond belief. I published a blog post a long time ago, wishing I could work there, since a supposedly haunted bookstore in an old theatre sounds straight out of a Nancy Drew novel.
The reason it’s closing, however, makes me pretty damned angry. I refer you to this article by Lisa Rainford, Torstar News:
“It’s a great store that’s served the neighbourhood incredibly well,” said Drew McGowen, vice-president of real estate and development at Chapters Indigo. “We’re at the end of our lease and the landlord can get far, far more money than we are able to pay.”
Since its opening in November 1999, Toronto’s commercial and housing real estate market has experienced “such a boom,” McGowen said. Chapters must vacate the premises by March 31, 2014, however, McGowen could not confirm when the store would be closed to the public. As for its employees, they have been notified and all will be relocated to other stores, he said.
“I want to offer our greatest, greatest thank you for your loyalty,” McGowen said, speaking to Chapters’ customers. “We hope you’ll stay with us as our customer even though we’re moving out of that immediate market. We hope you’ll still shop with us.”
McGowen called the store “an icon.” Its architecture and heritage “goes hand-and-hand with a bookstore.”
“The neighbourhood is so fantastic. It’s a store that has little to no parking, but people walk to it all the time. They’re so loyal,” he said.
He said he suspects the store won’t close quietly. Not if local resident and frequent Chapters customer Gwen O’Connell, who has lived in the Bloor West Village for 27 years, has her way.
“It’s really sad for the community,” said O’Connell, who knows some of the local Chapters employees. “It’s a historical building and (Chapters) maintained its dignity and history. It’ll be extremely sad to see it go.”
People from all walks of life rely on Chapters as a community hub, O’Connell said.
“It’s an integral part of our neighbourhood,” she said, recalling a recent visit by acclaimed local boxer George Chuvalo, who attracted as many as 200 people to the store for a signing of his new book, ‘Chuvalo: A Fighter’s Life: The Story Of Boxing’s Last Gladiator.’
Parkdale-High Park Councillor Sarah Doucette had just been informed of the news. If Chapters does indeed vacate the property, the councillor said she would hope that any new tenant would maintain the interior of the former theatre. Its exterior is protected by a heritage designation, she said.
According to rumblings in the neighbourhood, O’Connell said she’s heard a large-scale pharmacy is looking to relocated to the building.
In 1999, Chapters redeveloped the old theatre, the “Runny” as it was affectionately called, into a bookstore while keeping the cinema’s atmospheric interior intact. Built in June, 1927, the vaudeville theatre – designed to transport patrons to exotic places – was the first of its kind in Toronto. Designed by Alfred Chapman, it was known for its music and stage shows and could seat as many as 1,400 people. The ceiling was painted to depict a blue sky with puffy clouds; its complex lighting system projected a starry night and airplanes.
The atmospheric-style theatre is one of only three left in Canada.
So, there you have it. It’s being closed because of the property owner’s greed. Visit while you can, because the interior does not have to be left intact by the new tenant. I honestly can’t imagine how a pharmacy would manage to do the beautiful space justice.
As a side note, don’t forget to submit your questions for my interview with Roberta Rich! The most interesting ones will be used. You can post to my blog, contact me via my Twitter account @Bibliophiliacs , or the Bibliophiliacs facebook page.