When news broke in 2013 that the World’s Biggest Bookstore was shuttering its doors, book lovers mourned the loss of a Toronto staple.

Memories shared on blogs and social media revealed its place in Toronto’s cultural landscape: Lovebirds told how they’d roamed the store’s aisles on first dates, tourists recounted gawking at its expansive 64,000 square feet and newcomers explained how they’d practised English there.

The bookstore was torn down in 2014, but its memory will remain when Lifetime Developments’ Panda Condominiums opens in 2021 with a curated library of Canadian literature included in the project’s amenities space.

The importance of the store to Torontonians caught the developers off guard, Brian Brown, Principal of Lifetime Developments, says. “It was interesting to see what kind of a role this building and this business had in many people’s lives in Toronto.” And his company’s commitment to honour the Bookstore is part of what he sees as a developer’s role in city building.

“It’s important to remember the past. In some cases, it’s preservation of buildings, in other cases it’s a recognition to what happened in the past on that site,” he says. “There’s always a fine balance between looking to the future and remembering the past.”

Panda Condos will rise above a 30-storey tower that will include 555 suites ranging from 356-square-foot studios to three-bedroom units over 1,400 square feet.

“There’s always a fine balance between looking to the future and remembering the past.” Brian Brown Principal of Lifetime Developments.

Retail shops are planned to enliven street level; parking for cars and bicycles will be built underground. As well as indoor amenity space, an outdoor lounge and bar area, and barbecue areas are included in the design.

The announcement of the bookstore’s closing came at a time when Toronto had been buzzing about the loss of prominent Toronto institutions Honest Ed’s and Sam the Record Man, both locations acquired for new developments and both stirring much discussion about what should be done with their iconography and memory.

Where the signage of those stores will be displayed at Ed Mirvish Theatre and Yonge-Dundas Square, respectively, the recognition of the World’s Biggest Bookstore at Panda Condominums will be in spirit. The library of Canadian literature is being curated by Type Books owners Jo Saul and Samara Walbohm — both have PhDs in Canadian literature.

Saul remembers, as a teen, wondering about the Bookstore’s famous name. “I thought, ‘What a great name! Is it really? Is this true?’ It was vast and it seemed endless. You could just lose yourself in that world.”

For Saul and Walbohm, the partnership with Lifetime has a greater meaning as independent bookstore owners in a city where few still remain in the face of big chains.

“To acknowledge the importance of an independent bookstore to civic culture is an important thing to do,” she says.

“I don’t want to think about the independent bookstore as a dying breed, because it’s a vibrant cultural hub in my estimation. That acknowledgment of (the World’s Biggest Bookstore) space as an important cultural building enterprise is really great.”

Buyer Vince Teti checks out the downtown neighbourhood where he’s bought a three-bedroom suite at Panda Condominiums. With him are builder Brian Brown of Lifetime Developments and Jo Saul of Type Books, who will curate a library for residents of the new condos coming to the site of the former World’s Biggest Bookstore.

At Type Books, Saul and Walbohm create custom libraries for architectural firms, interior designers and individual clients. This is their first for a condo developer, and Saul calls it their “baby,” a collection that’s especially close to home as Canadian literature experts.

Some of what Saul calls “the expected gang” may be included, such as The Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood and Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro. But more importantly, the Type Books owners feel they should “expand and interrogate” how CanLit is defined and consider authors such as Indigenous writer Eden Robinson, who was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize this year.

Along with the curated collection at Panda Condominiums — so named for its black and white design — amenities will also feature a games room, a lounge area with private study rooms, and a theatre that can be used for watching the Super Bowl as easily as a movie or a presentation.

The location near Yonge-Dundas Square was the main attraction for excavation and haulage expert Vince Teti, 41, who recently purchased a three-bedroom corner unit for just over $1.1 million. But the Type Books library and nearby Ryerson Univer- sity are a plus.

Teti’s wife, Amal, is a high school teacher, and the couple has three kids under age 4 who could be burgeoning readers by the time the family makes the move from Vaughan in 2021.

Teti hopes the library and nearby university will encourage their kids to learn.

“It exposes them to the culture and promotes education,” he says.

Though the World’s Biggest Bookstore is gone, its legacy is just beginning to take shape at Panda Condominiums.

Source: Toronto Star