You may not find gifts, pens, and pastries at the city’s independent bookstores, but you’ll be sure to find all the books you could ask for at the best bookstores in Toronto. Book City has locations in the north, south, east, and west, Ben McNally Books is one-of-a-kind, and Indigo is Canada’s largest bookstore chain. Each brand has earned its “best bookstores in Toronto mention” and has a distinct personality to match.
Book City is one of Toronto’s few remaining independent bookstores in Toronto. It was founded by the family that still manages it four generations later. You’ll appreciate the dedicated book-loving staff, the eclectic selection with new and backlist titles, and tables stacked with bargains. Staff can sometimes be difficult to find here and have a little less time than the ultra-laidback employees at some independent bookstores, but they’re accessible, knowledgeable, and happy to help. Today, Book City has four locations in much-loved Toronto neighbourhoods: Danforth Avenue in the heart of the area known as Greektown, Queen Street in the Beaches, just a few blocks from the boardwalk that curves along Lake Ontario’s shores, Bloor Street in Bloor West Village, and Yonge Street uptown at St. Clair.
Ben McNally Books
Ben McNally Books, run by book lovers for book lovers, is tucked behind an unassuming, low-key storefront in Toronto’s financial district. Sophisticated, contemporary, and the very antithesis of stark, the space is intimate and welcoming, even cozy, but never crowded with plenty of room to move easily across the endless hardwood. Family-owned and operated, Ben McNally Books curates a wide range of fiction and nonfiction with a focus on first-run hardcovers that typically outsell the paperbacks that will follow them. To make the most of the floor space, the store discriminates in favour of the unusual and expensive books and rarely bothers with the books you typically find in chain bookstores. The covers’ colours dazzle, almost jewel-like in multiple hues that pop against the rich wood of the exquisite, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and attract intellectually curious customers that staff greets on a comfortable, first-name basis.
Ben McNally Books hosts countless in-store author and publisher events as well as an irregular dinner series with authors at the restaurant Grano and a Sunday brunch series at the King Edward Hotel with the preeminent national newspaper The Globe and Mail. Twice a year, McNally and his wife Lynn devote 45 minutes to recapping the season’s best books.
Ben McNally Books and Book City epitomize the super-chill and the soft sell compared to Indigo, Canada’s largest book retailer. Indigo has dozens of Toronto stores under its Coles, Chapters, Indigo, and Indigospirit banners which tend to be big, really big, and beautiful. The merchandising and strategic marketing are slick and virtually irresistible. Indigo had stretched beyond a bookstore and also includes non-book items like toys, home furnishings, and electronics. You can even grab a pair of super-cozy reading socks to snuggle in while you read a good book. It’s a challenge to leave empty-handed here because there’s so much to offer and the staff is always on hand to guide you to the best.
As much as these bookstores may differ, they all cater to people who love to read and are each located near an impressive array of cafes, bistros, restaurants, boutiques, and department stores. You can shop until you need to rest your weary self, recharge with a cup of coffee and a snack, and dive into the first chapter of your new book.