The digital era is miraculous, but it has lamentable side effects – its impact on book lovers being one. Now, another renowned bookshop, Nicholas Hoare in Toronto, is closing its hallowed portals forever.
The atmosphere of intellectual pilgrimage to be found in such shops as Hatchards in London, or the Strand Book Store in New York, or Shakespeare & Company in Paris is being supplanted by cloud computing and trawling the Internet. Yes, you can take your chances with “Daisy Picks” or “Thaddeus Recommends” or go online and search for a vague title. Yes, you can rummage Amazon.com or the Book Director or AbeBooks.com. Yes, you can pursue a book review and seek out a best deal. But nothing compares with the joy of browsing.
After 42 years, on April 1, 2013 the last Nicholas Hoare bookshop – a landmark in downtown Toronto – will close its doors following the demise of two other branches in Ottawa and Montreal. An April Fool’s Day joke? No. The shop’s owner says the closure is because he will soon turn 70 and is starting to slow down. Hoare closed his Montreal and Ottawa locations last year because of sharp rent hikes.
At Nicholas Hoare’s one could discover an armful of new books, sit for hours undisturbed, or just make a wish-list of tomes that one could not afford. The bookshops embodied the exceptional and hard to find service carefully put together by imaginative and often quirky book-sellers. “Oh, I didn’t know there was such a book!” might have been its mantra.
On his website, Nicholas Hoare comments:
“It is, therefore, the occasion to acknowledge our gratitude to our loyal clientele for their support over many years. Since first we opened, in 1971, they have been a constant joy; and, given the frequently eclectic choices of our founder, have not only vindicated his cherished policy of less is more – hand-picked and preferably face-out – but have thoroughly endorsed a manicured, high-end tradition that has flouted competitive trends for decades.”
Nicholas Hoare was born in Great Britain with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth to a well known banking family with over 300 years of history. As a child he lived in a haunted, 15th-century Elizabethan house in Suffolk. In his own words, “Built of ships’ timbers, lathe and plaster, and surrounded by books, plants and music, this remarkable home fostered a lifelong passion for food and wine, gardening and the arts.”
While still in his twenties, Hoare moved to Montreal and opened his first book shop specialising in British books that were largely unknown at the time and catering mainly to libraries. He later expanded to Toronto and Ottawa. He is now going to retire to his 350-acre property in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Royal – a country community near the Bay of Fundy, with rich soil and a micro-climate that favours gardening and growing peaches, apples and grapes. He plans to plant a fledgling vineyard, to revamp the garden and – most fittingly of all – to build an 18,000-volume library from scratch. His web site British Book Reviews by Nicholas Hoare will continue.
Whether you believe like Groucho Marx that, “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read”, or like Jane Austen that, “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid”, or like Jorge Luis Borges, that “Paradise will be a kind of library”, nothing can replace a good bookshop. In future, the problem may be finding one.
R.I.P Nicholas Hoare bookshops – and heartfelt thanks. The end of the world as we know it? Not quite. But damn nearly!