Field Trip: Queen Books in Toronto

September 19, 2017 by Mandy Bayrami

In April 2017 business partners Alex Snider and Liz Burns opened the doors to Queen Books in Toronto’s Leslieville, a family-friendly neighbourhood with a proud sense of community, green space, countless coffee shops and eateries, and the occasional set for Orphan Black. Find out more about this local bookstore, and check out our interview with Alex and Liz.

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Queen Books is the kind of place where you could lose track of time. The 1700-square-foot space is cozy and decorated with vintage tables housing books, serene-blue walls lined with bookshelves, and big beautiful rugs to pull it all together. There's tons of natural light that beams in from both ends of the store that adds an extra bit of quaint.



View from the entrance.




Backlit photo of the space.


The bookstore has a wide selection of books: you’ll find everything from poetry to literary and commercial fiction to Indigenous studies and non-fiction. What’s so great about the selection is the decent amount of books published by small presses and written by local authors; there's careful consideration on the shelves. The store also has a rather large nook at the back that houses a children’s and YA section, which doubles as the store’s event space.


We turned to owners Alex and Liz to get a glimpse into what it takes to run a bookstore and how Queen Books operates as a community hub in Leslieville.


ALU: Bookstores in close-knit neighbourhoods like Leslieville can operate as community spaces. What has the response been like in the neighbourhood? 

Queen Books: The community has been so welcoming. From the very beginning, even before we actually opened, we received so many excited emails and congratulations from neighbours and community members. Leslieville has such a strong community spirit and really appreciates independent businesses. We both live in Leslieville so being able to be so involved in our neighbourhood has been a dream come true. We're really looking forward to hosting more events that engage and give back to the community.  


ALU: What's the most surprising thing about running a bookstore? 

QB: I think what's been most surprising is the level of enthusiasm. The dialogue surrounding books and bookstores has been so dire for so long that having people excited about buying books has been wonderful. As business owners and book lovers it's thrilling to be surrounded by so many other ardent book people.


ALU: Which books get asked after a lot?

QB: We've found that our customers are really engaged with whatever is new in Canlit and from small Canadian presses, as well as anything well received in places like the Globe and Mail and Quill & Quire. We have a wall of staff picks that gets perused a lot and it's been really heartening to see how much love sections like poetry, short stories, and essays get. One of the benefits of having a very curated selection is that—while the big new releases get a lot of attention—our customers also enjoy browsing our shelves and picking out hidden gems.  



A bookshelf of staff picks near the front entrance.


ALU: Tell us about a favourite event you've hosted.

QB: We loved being able to participate in Authors for Indies. We had only been open a couple weeks and the event was put together pretty quickly but we had a bunch of fantastic authors come out to act as booksellers for the day. It was really interesting to listen in on their book conversations and hear about their recommendations. We have also been doing some great kid events, including a mystery writing workshop with Angela Misri that was a blast. Anything with kids is so fun because they are so curious and their excitement is so contagious.  


ALU: What makes your bookstore unique?

QB: I think what makes us unique is sort of what makes all indies unique—the way that the community we're in impacts our selection and atmosphere so much. Of course our selection represents my and Liz and our staff's tastes, but it's important to us to make sure we represent the neighbourhood's tastes as well. Before we opened we put signs up in our windows asking for input from the community about what sections and titles they wanted to see in the store and got a lot of useful feedback. We really wanted to make sure that we had something for everyone and that customers feel that we always have books they love. We're staunchly anti-snobbery when it comes to reading and we just want to be able to make sure everyone feels good about coming in and talking books.




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Thanks so much to Alex and Liz for answering our questions and helping us with our first Field Trip feature! Queen Books is located at 914 Queen Street East in Toronto. 


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