About a month ago, while it was still warm enough to break a sweat in the sun, my roommate and I went out to High Park. She had been there zero times to my dozen or so, I decided to let go of the reins and let her choose our path. As much as I enjoy a good explore, the park is lovely enough to make re-treading old paths a joy. Despite a few small discoveries in the park, it was not until after lunch that we uncovered something truly remarkable.
This was no earth-shattering discovery, but it was exceptional in the way that it snuck up on me. Some places have a certain vibe, a feel where you might find something new and interesting. Finding hidden grove in a forest, a strikingly ruined building in a run-down industrial area, or a beautiful view on a mountain path would be surprising and pleasant, but not particularly startling. The inside of Chapters, a chain of large bookstores, is not such a place. I expect the same old sections on the same old shelves, the same signage using the same fonts, the same employees in the same uniforms, the latest from Oprah, and probably a Starbucks. The bookstore’s facade provided no hints of anything unusual. Upon entering the store, it felt a little more cramped than chain’s usual layout, and there was a nice sky-blue painted dome set into the ceiling. Even with that clue, I did not expect this.* The magazine section sprawls lazily on the low stage, there are theatre chairs set in alcoves between shelves so that customers can sit and read, and next to the ramps leading down to the stage, there are escalators servicing the balcony. It was surreal.
My first conscious reaction, after halfway recovering from my surprise, was one of lukewarm anti-capitalist outrage, but then it was pointed out to me that the choice for this fine old theatre was likely either Chapters or the wrecking ball. As glorious as it is to go down with the ship, I likely would have made the same choice.
As a timely footnote, a few days later I followed a link from an architecture blog to a page describing a bookstore in the Netherlands, built in a former Dominican Church. Where won’t bookstores pop up? (at 256 Queen St. W, apparently)
*I didn’t have my camera with me, let alone a tripod.