Acadia Books has been an institution on Queen East since (apparently) 1931, at Queen and Sherbourne. I remember when I first moved to Toronto, walking past it with curiosity, often only in the neighbourhood on Sunday mornings. It’s in the heart of Moss Park, on a particularly sketchy stretch in a bit of a sketchy neighbourhood, and as someone who lived in various parts of Toronto and currently struggles with people urinating and sleeping in the front yard of the studio shop and ringing the doorbell at all hours of the night, I do not say that blithely. But worth the trip! Over the last year or two I’ve had cause to be in the neighbourhood, on foot, every once in a while, and it’s a treat to stop in.
Of course, after the books, my favourite thing about this shop is that they have two very successful and friendly shop cats. I like to think they are a mirror into which Chicken and Tuna, semi-feral, untrained, unpleasant, erratic, eating plants, peeing in plants, trapped within a contentious relationship, one of whom is not mine, can see their future, but in solid form. Acadia Books’ two cats are a solid orange and a solid black, as opposed to my stripey ones, and are both extremely affectionate.
In a city with quite a few new and used bookstores, Acadia Books specializes in rare and antique books, lots of beautiful things. They do not have the usual assortment of used books that most used bookstores seem to have, and while their general fiction section is more than respectable—a row of shelves down the middle of the shop—I believe what they’re really known for are their towering shelves of rare books.
We are definitely not a family that is able to take pristine care of our books, so there are no rare or valuable first editions on our own shelves. While we do have a few really beautiful hardcovers or illustrated children’s books that I hope will one day make it to Caleb or Naomi’s own shelves, I’m mostly embracing this stage of our life, with books left splayed open in the bathroom, crumbs trapped in the pages at the kitchen table. As I write this, Caleb is eating jam toast at the kitchen table with me, and as tear in a page being turned was heard in the silent kitchen, we both looked vaguely at each other and then back down again. Definitely no first edition Alice in Wonderlands here.
I’m also trying and mostly failing to not succumb to buying books for nice covers or pretty editions, but every time I’m there I find something I can’t resist, a $7 paperback of something I’d been meaning to read or an author I like. I have long, long learned the fatal lesson of judging books by covers, having read many delicious, heart-breaking and stubbornly thought-provoking and very, very good books hidden within terrible graphics and glossiness and maybe even a movie actor’s face, and also the opposite, and yet here I am.
Are shops like this necessarily a tourist destination? Perhaps for the true bibliophile. But what I’d like to think even more is that these neighbourhood specialty shops can continue to make the neighbourhoods they live in more vibrant and interesting places to live and work. Bookshops and plant shops and delis and hardware stores and libraries and taco restaurants and convenience stores and vet clinics and the take out ice cream window and the banh mi sandwich place and I, yes, do understand that we do not live in Stars Hollow and that the free-ish market will only bear what it can bear, but wouldn’t it be just such a more interesting and liveable and glorious city if we were able to keep and sustain these sorts of places?
This isn’t some sort of crusade to save any shop in particular, but just that this is a lovely shop full of treasures and I hope it can stick around for another 90 years. Amazon might have all the books you could ever be looking for, but shops like this have the books that you never knew you were looking for.