Eliot’s is a trip. It’s been around forever and recently closed down because it was cheaper to rent it out to a corporate business than actually run a used book store in Toronto. My friends and everyone who hangs out with me for more than five minutes know that I hate capitalism but I especially hate it when it takes perfect, independent quality businesses from my life.
I discovered Eliot’s way too late to appreciate it properly. The first time I ever went in, I was 22 and bored on my lunch break from a job that I didn’t really like and walked to College to window shop. I saw the big green sign outside Eliot’s and wondered why I had never noticed that there was a bookstore on this stretch of convenience stores, sex stores, sneaker spots and those stores that sell Canadian tourist shit like CN tower replicas and moose t-shirts. If I had known Eliot’s was there, I would have gone way earlier.
Because it was 1pm on a workday, I was the only person in the store and the guy working there, presumably, Eliot, said “hello” and largely left me alone. I appreciate this in a store owner, because I am often paranoid that people will think I am stealing from them. I’m not, haha, but my nervous energy probably sets off the wrong signals. Eliot ignored my nervous energy and let me browse the entire bookshelf worth of Secrets of NIHM books in peace. Secrets of NIHM is this book series about rodents that are like Arthur and the kings of the roundtable or whatever. But they’re mice. I had recently read a copy of one of the series’ books at my parents’ cottage and was surprised to find that Eliot seemed to have every episode that existed. I picked out two more and carried them around with me while I looked around and when he noticed me looking at the stairs, Eliot encouraged me to go upstairs. “There’s two more floors.” he said. “Two?” I was a bit shocked. “Ya.”
And then he just let me go upstairs and explore more by myself. There were self-help books and cookbooks and books on gardening and on how to antique. I didn’t go up to the third floor because I realized I had no time left on my lunch break. When I came back down, carrying my three Secrets of NIHM books, he chatted to me about the series and told me about owning the shop. He gave me his business card and told me to come back when I needed to restock on Secrets of NIHM again.
Eliot’s store was unique, and not just in the fact that the name is spelled with one “L” and one “T” which always throws me off. It had more books than space for them and there were piles that seemed to multiply the farther you got into it. It was meticulously organized by book topic and there were connections between floors and subject matter. Lots of romance novels and science fiction stuff and educational books that teach you how to make shit.
Years later, when I read about Eliot’s closing down on the CBC (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/eliots-bookshop-property-taxes-yonge-1.4245171), I visited for the second and last time. The article mentioned that it would be cheaper for Eliot to just rent the space to a bigger business than it would be to actually run the bookstore and pay for growing property taxes. He owned the building and knew he would have to retire eventually, he just didn’t want to so soon. What a huge bummer.
I told my mom about it closing and she said she made a special stop on her way home from being retired one day. She, like me on my first visit, was the only one in the store. She picked out a book on meditation (her Secrets of NIHM) and went to the register. Eliot told her she could have it for free. When I went back, the shelves were emptying quickly as everything was on clearance. The Secrets of NIHM shelf had been long gone. There was a teenage girl who looked like she went to UofT with her mom and sister buying a huge stack of books who let me go in front of them in line because I just had this one weird book on antiques I wanted to give my dad as a joke because the cover art was nice. I looked at Eliot. I said “thanks” and Eliot said “thanks” and we both looked sad.