When I lived in Toronto, the BMV at the corner of Yonge and Eglinton was my go-to bookshop. There are two other BMV locations in the city, one at Yonge and Dundas and one in the Annex and what they all have in common is an impressive collection of books from every genre imaginable at very reasonable prices. Every year at Christmastime I would bring a big empty bag with my to one of the locations and leave with a bulging bag of presents for my family.
As a bookshop, it’s really very nice, with wooden shelves stretching up the the ceilings which, though they cause problems for shorter customers like me, give you the feeling of being surrounded from every side by pages and print. It checks all the boxes for me, I think: small corners to hide away from other customers, an upstairs floor to escape the interested but not invasive eye of staff, a range of unusual and unexpected genres, quiet music and little splashes of character and uniqueness throughout. The humorous indication that the European history section has been “annexed” by American history is one such splash. Speaking of the American history section: am I the only one who didn’t realise Romney had published a book about the greatness of America? Give me a break, Mitt. Anyway, I found a copy of it in the bookshop today and was caught by another customer as I rolled my eyes. His sly smile seemed to suggest that he shared my amusement. The upstairs, where Military, American, European (annexed and otherwise) and Middle Eastern history are found also has a whole shelf of plays and another whole shelf of Shakespeare plays, rows and rows of new and vintage comic books (DC on one side and Marvel on the other of the long table in the middle) and an impressive collection of children’s books from picture books to classics and all the way up to teen books. I’ve seen families bring their children in and sit on the carpet by the window reading to their children. There isn’t a toy or piece of cross-over merchandise in sight. It’s a beautiful thing.
The bookshop is entirely pleasant. But no, it isn’t the most original or different or unique bookshop in the world or even in the city. I’ve been in many shops in my life that have creakier steps, mustier smells and quirkier staff and so it isn’t for any of these, my usual criteria, that I love this particular shop.
I love it because there’s something very dramatic about its location. Across the street from it looms a giant shopping mall whose east-facing side is almost entirely eaten up by the dominating front of one of the big bookstore chains. It remains nameless because I’m impartial. Or maybe because I used to work there.
Shoppers flit in and out of the loud and busy shopping mall on the west side of Yonge, perhaps unaware that they are merely accessories to the drama unfolding underneath their feet as the two bookshops are locked in a staring contest, each hoping the other will blink first. But despite its smaller size, BMV seems to have a devoted base of loyal customers, including yours truly, of course! It seems like every time I come to Toronto I can count on seeing the little old man who wears a Tilley hat and seems to love John Grisham on my mandatory trip to BMV.
Today, I wasn’t planing on buying anything but, of course, walked out in the end with three new books. The first was the collected stories of Willa Cather, an American writer whom I love as a novelist but whose short stories I’ve never read. The second was the Pocket Poets series edition of Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish and Other Poems which I bought because I read several drafts of a friend’s dissertation on “Kaddish” and now feel like I know everything there is to know about it but still, inexcusably, haven’t actually read it. But now I can remedy that! The final one was Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Anyone who follows my book-hunting spree will know of my obsession with Calvino. These three books cost me $21 (£13.50), while across the street I would have spent closer to $40.
Speaking of the across-the-street rivalry, I’d like to point out that whenever I’m in the store, I can usually count on hearing the owner at the front desk taking calls from people who have used books, comics, CDs or magazines (incidentally, they sell Books, Magazines and Videos, as the name indicates, as well as other media forms) they want to sell him. On occasion, I’ve been there when a customer walks in with a box full of books to be sorted through to decide which ones can be resold. Mr. BMV (that’s what I’ve dubbed him) is very particular about what books he’ll accept.
Today, I was interested to overhear him on the phone with a customer explaining that the store’s policy on pricing is to sell everything for 50% or less of the cover price. It was the way he phrased it, though, that was just brilliant. He told the customer, “Yeah, you know those guys across the street? Yeah, we want to sell you the same book for half the price.” How very cheeky of you, good sir.