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Final chapter closes for World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto

It’s the final chapter for the World’s Biggest Bookstore.

The Toronto landmark — 64,000 square feet worth of the written word on everything from Tao to travel — is expected to close in 18 months after dominating the same downtown block for almost 25 years.

Owners Indigo Books & Music had been seeking a “significant” reduction in rent from the store’s owners, citing a downturn in business. And while the

lease on the iconic property near Yonge and Dundas Sts. doesn’t expire until December, 2013, the property is already in play.

One condo developer has reportedly offered $38 million for the site, just 30 metres from what’s being touted as “Canada’s busiest pedestrian/tourist/retail destination.”

But the owners, descendents of book retailer Jack Cole — who revolutionized retailing in 1980 by converting a bowling alley into the sprawling superstore — are determined to find a new retail tenant.

“The decision to not renew the lease at the end of 2013 was based on a thorough review of every facet of our World’s Biggest Bookstore business,” said Indigo spokesperson Janet Eger in emails to the Toronto Star.

“In the meantime, we’ll be working towards a seamless transition for our valued customers and employees, the details of which are being finalized.”

In many ways, what’s happening to World’s Biggest is the story of the book industry, which has been a victim of dwindling profits and, more recently, e-readers.

World’s Biggest — which the Guinness World Book of Records says actually isn’t anymore — may have boasted 20 kilometres of bookshelves and more than 4,000 different cookbooks, but regulars found it had become cheaper and more convenient to buy books online.

That way they could also avoid the store’s blindingly bright fluorescent lights and the challenge of finding a comfortable place to sit — something that’s never been lacking at sister stores Indigo with their plush chairs and coffee counters.

“The existence of a large retail space like this, just steps from Yonge and Dundas is the hen’s tooth of all hen’s teeth — incredibly rare,” says broker Stuart Smith, vice president of the urban retail group for commercial real estate company CB Richard Ellis.

“I’ve had the biggest of the big (retailers) looking at it from all over the world.”The big draw is location, location, location. The store sits in the epicentre of a condo boom that’s added tens of thousands of shoppers to the downtown.

While it may not have a door on Yonge St., the property is within steps of some pretty major downtown developments.

They include a major expansion of the nearby Ryerson University Campus and, just around the corner, construction of Canderel’s 78-storey condo and retail complex, the tallest residential condo in Canada. Those projects, and others, are expected to kick-start a major remake of Yonge St.

The two-storey building also offers bargains of another kind: Leasing costs that are almost unheard of downtown at roughly $25 per square foot, plus $8 per s.f. in operating costs and taxes. That’s a fraction of the combined $150 to $200 per square foot for property right on Yonge St., says Smith.

“It’s a suburban site (in size) with suburban taxes in a completely urban environment,” says Smith. “It’s the biggest thing to come up for rent downtown since Maple Leaf Gardens,” now a bustling Loblaws.

But that may, in fact, be its downfall, says one commercial broker: “It’s a dubious distinction downtown being big.”

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