Atom Egoyan might never have made his award-winning film The Sweet Hereafter if it wasn't for Pages Books and Magazines and its owner, Marc Glassman.
The acclaimed director's wife, actress Arsinée Khanjian, was shopping in the store on Queen Street West for a gift for her husband when Mr. Glassman made a recommendation.
"He suggested to Arsinée that I would like this book," Mr. Egoyan recalls.
Mr. Glassman was right. Mr. Egoyan was enchanted by Russell Banks' novel and turned it into a film of the same name. The Sweet Hereafter went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, a slew of Genie awards and picked up Oscar nominations for best director and best adapted screenplay.
And it all started at Pages, the independent bookstore that has served as a hub for Toronto's artistic community for 30 years. Mr. Glassman says his shop, kitty-corner to the MuchMusic studios, has weathered a lot of changes over the years, including the construction of a Chapters just a block away. But now Pages' landlord wants to increase the rent, and Mr. Glassman says his business just can't afford the hike. He plans to shut the shop for good on Aug. 31.
The neighbourhood has changed dramatically over the years as chain retailers such as The Gap and French Connection have moved in, driving up rents and squeezing out independent retailers like Mr. Glassman.
"I'm paying about $235,000 a year in rent and taxes, which is a crazy sum to be where I am," Mr. Glassman said. "My landlord believes he can get $400,000, which amounts to $100 a square foot."
Commercial rents along Queen Street West between University and Spadina Avenues have indeed skyrocketed in recent years, says John Crombie, national retail director for Cushman & Wakefield LePage.
"It's hitting $140 a square foot near Spadina," Mr. Crombie said, adding that the same places were just $30 to $40 a square foot in 2000.
"In retailing, there tends to be a herd mentality: One company makes the leap and everybody else thinks they should be there too."
Toronto musician and writer Dave Bidini says Pages was a place that had the ability to reach beyond the literary set and draw in bands that played in the area. Mr. Bidini, founder of the Rheostatics, remembers "buying a lot of formative books" in the store, which prides itself on its selection on topics such as cultural theory and Eastern philosophy.
"Out of all the people I knew on that strip and the places I went to from 1980 on, Pages was the last standing," Mr. Bidini said.
"I guess Queen Street West is officially dead now."
He credits Mr. Glassman for dedicating one window in the shop to displays from local artists, which Mr. Bidini used to full advantage in 2007 to launch his latest book. He perched himself in the window and did a marathon reading of all 311 pages of Around the World in 57 ½ Gigs for passers-by.
"I stood in the window for about six hours. It was pretty cool. Well actually, it was hot. Very hot," Mr. Bidini said.
Pages' popular This Is Not A Reading Series will live on after the store closes, Mr. Glassman said. The series features writers doing onstage performances that involve anything but reading their works at venues throughout Toronto.
Mr. Glassman says he hasn't completely thrown in the towel - he has been looking at areas such as Parkdale and Leslieville for a possible new location, but says the rents there are almost as high and the spaces available aren't as big. In two years of searching, he has not found a place that works.
Mr. Egoyan said he's holding out hope that Mr. Glassman's bookstore will find a way to stick around.
"He's one of the few [retailers]that prided himself on giving explicit access to counterculture," Mr. Egoyan said. "It's unthinkable that the city wouldn't be able to sustain that sort of conduit."
The areas with the most expensive rents for retail storefront spaces in Toronto, all prices per year.
Bloor Street between Yonge Street and Avenue Road: $300 per square foot
Queen Street West between John Street and Spadina Avenue: $100-$140 per square foot
Yonge Street between Eglinton Avenue and Lawrence Avenue, north corridor: $70 per square foot
Intersection of Yonge and Dundas Streets: $50 to $70 per square foot
Source: John Crombie, Cushman & Wakefield LePage.