David Mirvish Books
It's not every day you walk into a store and see a 50 foot work of art by someone as famous as Frank Stella. But that's exactly what's on the wall at David Mirvish Books (596 Markham Street), a bookstore that's been around since 1974 and has one of Toronto's best selections of books on art.
Divided over two floors, DM Books (as it's casually known) features all types of art books on the main floor. There are sections devoted to Canadian artists, modern and contemporary art, architecture and architects, film, music, design, magazines and more. The second floor is stocked with books on subjects ranging from furniture, crafts, history, poetry and cooking. There's also a small selection of children's books.
On my most recent visit, I snapped some photos and talked with store manager Eleanor Johnson who filled me in on a bit of the store's history, founder and what continues to bring customers back. Read my interview below:
How has the bookstore evolved/changed since David Mirvish opened it in 1974?
In 1974 the bookstore opened across Markham Street at 599 when the David Mirvish Gallery was at our current location at 596. We have always maintained a focus on books on the visual arts and artists and consistently looked for a combination of new books, exhibition catalogues, white sales and remainders in an effort to offer good value in the tradition of Honest Ed's. As we are in the old gallery space from time to time we put on exhibitions on the walls over the bookshelves.
What is David Mirvish's current role with the bookstore? Is he involved in any of the day to day operations of the business?
Mr. Mirvish is not involved in the day to day operation of the bookstore. He does however make a point of being aware of the events at the bookstore. Much of his time is spent with his involvement with the theatres.
Frank Stella's Damascus Gate, Stretch Variation is stunning and certainly a visual highlight of the store. How did the store acquire this work?
Thanks. We love having Damascus Gate here. When David Mirvish was working on the expansion of the gallery space in 1970 with architect John Andrews (who also worked on Scarborough College and the CN Tower), Frank Stella asked David if there would be a fifty foot wall in the gallery, and if so, he wanted to paint a 50 foot long painting. Damascus Gate was in the opening show of the new gallery in 1970 along with two smaller Protracter series pictures. The picture was exhibited at the Art Gallery of Ontario before it was reinstalled here when the bookstore moved across the street.
Consolidation, online shopping and mega chains like Chapters must make it challenging for local, independent bookstores to survive these days. How has David Mirvish Books adapted to these new realities?
We try do do a good job in the art areas where we have knowledge. All of our staff have studied art in one field or another. That means they are interested in the material we stock in the store. We feel too, that with art books, people generally like to see the books before buying them. We have a modest website and customers do find us that way, too. We don't generally sell bestsellers in the usual sense. It's fortunate in a way, because online and bigbox stores sell those books as loss leaders, so there is little point for us.
Who would you say is your typical customer?
Good question. We have thought about that from time to time. On a typical day customers are on a quest for information, fairly specialized. They want good quality reproductions, serious content often adding to personal collections. The retail world would likely define book purchases as discretionary. While that is true, I think that most of our customers view books as a priority in their lives, and a great source of satisfaction.
Anything else you'd like to add?
A few years ago David Mirvish was given an award, this one was for his bookstore's contribution to the city. He was touched and pleased that the arts community deemed the bookstore a valuable part of the fabric of the city.