Reading the Fine Print at Toronto’s Ben McNally Books

Ben McNally Books is located on 366 Bay Street, Toronto, Ontario.
When the number six bus stops at Bay and Richmond, its doors open to a storefront adorned with the words “read the fine print.” Located in the heart of Toronto’s Financial District, Ben McNally Books is surrounded by towering concrete buildings, an endless stream of cars, and the competing traffic of people rushing from one place to another.  Since it opened in September 2007, this book haven has become an escape for suit-clad men and women whose heels tap and resonate in the premises.

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As the former manager of Nicholas Hoare Books and a bookseller for the Harbourfront Reading Series, Ben McNally is the quintessential book expert. Despite being in the business for over 40 years, he rediscovers his deep connection with the written word every time he picks up a new book. He describes his job as an honorable profession which encourages people to broaden their horizons.

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In an age of corporate bookstores and a cut-throat market, McNally is of a rare breed who have taken the highly romanticized pursuit of bookselling and transformed it into a successful independent business operation. His unconventional yet highly effective approach is reflected in his choice of location.  Since most of his clientele is catered to during business hours, he is free to host events in the evenings such as book launches, private parties and weddings.

Being the first person in his family to go to university, he studied English for the sole reason that it would allow him to spend as much time reading as possible. As a self-proclaimed hippy, McNally had little luck finding a job at a bookstore when he first started off. His refusal to work elsewhere landed him in a parking lot where he was employed for 15 years. He describes this experience as “long periods of idleness with short periods of frantic.”

McNally believes the most endearing quality of an independent bookstore is the personal attention that it provides to its customers. “All bookstores are a reflection of their customers,” he says. He loves talking to people and helping them get the book they are looking for. It’s not about selling something in that moment, but giving customers an experience that compels them to come back. He feels that every bookstore has something different to offer, otherwise there would be no point in replicating them. The most unique quality of his store is its ability to react quickly and adapt to customers’ needs.

outsidebenmcnallyWith antique chandeliers, and bookshelves engraved with traditional writing tools, Ben McNally Books beckons booklovers.  The floral design painted throughout the store inspires imagery from a fairytale. “One of the greatest benefits of life is finding things that one is not looking for,” McNally says. Discovering a 2500 square foot bookstore amidst office buildings is one of these valuable benefits.

About the author

Aeman Ansari

Aeman Ansari tweets at @IamAemanAnsari.

By Aeman Ansari