Penguin Random House Canada entered the retail market on Aug. 24 with what may be one of the smallest bookstores in Toronto.
The Penguin Shop is located in the lobby of the same building as PRH’s office, on Front Street in the heart of the city’s Entertainment District. At 158 square feet (the space formerly housed a shoe-repair stand), the number of titles available in-store is small, but PRH is banking on the Penguin brand being as much of a draw as its books. Each of the four hidden bookshelves that slide out from the store’s wall is capped on the end to resemble a book spine in the style of Penguin’s iconic horizontal grid design – two coloured bars divided by a bar of white – originally created in 1935 by Edward Young, a 21-year-old Penguin junior staffer. When all the shelves are pushed in, the wall resembles a row of eight-foot-high books. (Three additional panels open to reveal an online point-of-sale system and additional stock.) The spines are magnetic, allowing for quick changes to promote specific titles, award winners, or events, which the store plans to hold on occasion, overflowing into the lobby when necessary. The shop also sells a variety of Penguin-branded merchandise, also featuring the press’s original design, including lapel pins, notebooks, mugs, and travel tags.
Robert Wheaton, Penguin Random House Canada’s chief operating officer, says the shop is not a venture into direct bookselling, but an experiment in research and development: a way for employees, from sales and marketing to design and editorial, to interact directly with book consumers. Wheaton says the goal is not to squeeze out retailers, but to open communication with various audiences in a small, concentrated way. This is the first permanent retail store for Penguin, though other presses have had success with branded stores of various sizes, including Drawn & Quarterly, Biblioasis, Wolsak & Wynn, and House of Anansi Press.
The Penguin Shop is staffed by one permanent employee, Justin Sorbara-Hosker – who has more than 10 years of bookselling experience – assisted by rotating volunteers from the office above. The shop’s hours will be adjusted to meet the needs of customers through experimentation.