Susan Duff is still in disbelief. For more than three decades, her family had operated Ten Editions, a secondhand bookstore well known for its vast collection on urban Toronto. Located on the western edge of UTSG, it was a popular spot for students, Annex residents, and curious tourists who were looking for a rare find.
Late last year, however, she received bad news. In August, the University of Toronto reached an agreement with the City of Toronto and local neighbourhood groups to finally allow construction of a new student residence at the corner of Sussex Avenue and Spadina Avenue, on land currently occupied by the bookstore and neighbouring businesses.
The report hit Duff hard. “How can the university say that a coffee shop is more important to a student housing building than a bookstore?” she said, referencing a report in the Annex Post that said U of T Vice-President University Operations Scott Mabury was considering a restaurant or café as a possibility to replace the bookstore at retail level in the new building.
“I cannot believe that supposedly they’re in the business of helping students and somehow they think that [a] coffee shop helps students more than a bookstore.”
Despite Duff’s claim that U of T is replacing the bookstore with a café, Mabury told The Varsity that they “have made no plans going forward about what will be in” the new student residence.
“We have not formally even had a discussion about what we’re going to have in the retail portion of the building,” Mabury said. “We’ve barely just completed the architectural design that has required and necessitated significant incorporation of the existing building into the overall project for heritage purposes.”
History of development plans
This announcement was years in the making. The residence at 698–706 Spadina Avenue and 54 Sussex Avenue was first proposed in 2013 as a way to alleviate the growing need for student housing. Almost immediately, stakeholders raised concerns about its proposed height, the mix of students, and heritage considerations.
In February 2017, the Toronto and East York Community Council voted to designate the building in which Ten Editions operated as a heritage site. Built in 1885, 698 Spadina “has design value as an example of a late 19th century corner-store building type designed with a high degree of craftsmanship in the late Victorian style,” according to a city report.
Later in the year, the city rejected the building proposal, with a report from municipal staff concluding that the residence was inconsistent with provincial plans and was not an appropriate location given its planned 23-storey height. In an attempt to keep the project alive, U of T entered into provincial mediation with the Ontario Municipal Board.
Last summer, the issue was finally resolved, with the university agreeing to limit the height of the building, reduce number of beds, and cap the proportion of first-year students in the residence to 60 per cent. U of T also agreed to renovate the long-closed and rundown Robert Street Playing Field, just west of the building, and open it to the public.
Effects on Ten Editions
The resolution, however, meant that Duff had to close down her family’s long-held business. When I visited Ten Editions on January 11, the bookstore had been closed for almost two weeks and was almost bare, save for a small collection left for any wandering passerby to pick up, and random signs reading “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Halloween.”
With the faint sounds of classical music playing on the radio in the background, Duff had told me that for years, the local community had asked the university to keep Ten Editions and incorporate the bookstore within the new residence. Duff claimed U of T was not listening.
“They never really said no,” she said of the university. “They said ‘Oh, we’ll write your suggestions down.’ And you’d go to the next meeting and it would be the same thing. You know, ‘What does the neighbourhood want?’ The neighbourhood would like to keep the bookstore.”
Mabury, however, believes the meetings went well. He said that the mediation process through the OMB was a “productive exercise… I suppose we should have just tried that route sooner.” He also said that the number of students living in the residence “will inform what kind of a retail presence we hope for the building.”
Duff added, “Someone just five minutes ago told me books enrich the spirit of the city. How does the university not understand that?”
Sue Dexter, the U of T Liaison for the Harbord Village Residents’ Association, decried the decreasing number of bookstores in the city in general and called the university “opportunistic.”
“I go past [Ten Editions] once a week,” Dexter said, “and each time in the last two weeks I’ve passed, there have been people looking in the windows and they turn to me and say, ‘Is it still open?’ and I say, ‘No, it isn’t.’”
According to Dexter, the bookstore was particularly remarkable because “it had everything” to offer.
“It’s a loss to the community,” she said. “It’s surprising that a university would participate in annihilating a secondhand bookstore because there were a lot of academics that went through there and you see them picking up a dozen books.”
The Harbord Village Residents’ Association tried to help Ten Editions survive, but the bookstore eventually had to close down on New Year’s Eve. As for Duffy, she laid out her plans for a future that still involves books.
“I’m going to do nothing for six months,” she said, chuckling. “That’s my first plan. I’m going to open all the boxes I took home and read the books I never had time to read.”