5/30/2009

Here Kitty








5/27/2009

My Theme Song



In 1972 in Victoria, Canada, a rookie policeman wrote a poem for his girlfriend while driving home in his police car. Dave "the Cop" Richardson gave the poem to his young friend David Foster, an aspiring musician looking for material for his new band. Foster passed it along to Skylark guitarist Doug Edwards who set it to music. It was the first song Edwards had ever composed.
Skylark's WILDFLOWER went to Number Eight on the Billboard Top Ten and sold over a million copies.
Over 30 years WILDFLOWER has sold multiple millions in more than fifty versions. It's been honored with a BMI Millionaire's Award and SOCAN Classic and Crystal Awards.
It's the song that launched David Foster's career.





Lotus Flower Set

5/26/2009

2 Qte!




5/25/2009

Hold On


For a friend...

5/23/2009

New Posts

My wife believes that I'm actually ill. I'd like to feel that I'm just focused and determined and I have a tremendous attention to detail.
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G.T. Dave
Ubiq
Innovate or Die
Ad Fail
I'm Rich!
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LINK
David vs. Toronto
COMMENT
Thank you David, your comments (although I disagree!) do now at least demonstrate a little familiarity with the topic rather than your previous “just sayin”-type post. Healthy debate is good but blithely stating an opinion without any back-up just smacks of hubris, so I appreciate your reply.
I agree that the Toronto Life article’s author did put too fine a point on the choice of “hottest” places; he IS right - those aren’t the hot spots any more, and haven’t been for ages but as you say, that’s not really the issue.
The population of Toronto (the GTA in fact) is closer to Houston or Chicago than any of LA/SFO/NYC so it’s not entirely fair for you to make those comparisons. But, if you read carefully, that’s not what either author was saying.
Both authors are saying that what makes Toronto great is, amongst many other things, the network of communities we have developed. The “nice” people you describe. And, exactly the things you don’t seem to like about it. We don’t care about celebrity; we’re not obsessed with showing off at high-end clubs.
Sure, our transit system could be improved, but it gets us around. No, we don’t have the Golden Gate Bridge or the Empire State Building, but we do have the good ol’ CN Tower, lots of interesting architecture, hundreds of amazing restaurants that don’t require us to go into debt and best of all, streets that are by and large safe enough to walk at any time of day or night. We don’t need to carry guns around, our murder rate is 2.0 victims / 100,000 (vs. NYC at 7.3 per 100,000) and unlike our neighbours to the south, we’re enjoying a relatively stable and successful economy right now.
So, in my mind, Toronto IS a world-class city - because those are the measurements that mean the most to me. I’m most certainly not trying to convince you to come here or to change your opinion. On the contrary, I think it’s just great that you love New York so much, and that you seem to love the other Big Famous American cities you have travelled to.
I too have been fortunate enough to travel to many great cities around the world, from Dubai to Buenos Aires, Copenhagen to Bombay, Paris to Vancouver. I loved many, many things about those cities, and disliked many too. But unlike you I don’t feel the need to insult their residents in order to make Toronto seem better or grander, nor would I denigrate them by saying I thought they were “cute”. I think they’re all great in their own way.
Finally, it might shock you to learn that although I’ve travelled the world, I have never been to New York. Truthfully it just doesn’t really appeal. I guess I’m just not a fan of hubris.
Sorry if that hurts.

5/22/2009

R.I.P. 1BE

One Bloor East before the wrecking ball



The promised land: One Bloor East has been sitting empty since the old buildings were demolished a year ago

A Whole Lot of Nothing
by Richard Poplak
[Toronto Life - Jne.09]

One of the biggest, priciest, most-hyped condo projects in Toronto history has turned Yonge and Bloor into a windswept reminder of our financial insanity. Is the empty lot a sign of the times or of something more troubling?

It was the lineup that did it: on a chilly November day in 2007, 100 salivating condo zombies queued in front of the sales office of One Bloor East, and the spectacle entrenched the $500-million tower (its name shortened, with Hollywood action-movie panache, to 1BE) in the public imagination. Many of them were hired by real estate agents for as much as $2,000. They huddled in the cold for over a week, determined to claim one of 612 luxury units gussied up with Miele appliances and lanais (Hawaiian for covered balcony). The hysteria was as inflated as the prices: newspapers reported that an unnamed Hong Kong businessman had offered $25 million for a two-storey penthouse suite with an infinity pool gazing out over Lake Ontario.

At the time, the real estate market was as fat and smug as a Wall Street hedge fund manager, and 1BE’s developer, Bazis International, milked the frenzied crowd accordingly. As people waited in line, staff came outside and changed a sign displaying unit prices, hiking the range of $300,000 to $2 million up to $500,000 to more than $8 million. According to Andrew La Fleur, a real estate agent and an active blogger who was there that day, when the prices were raised the crowd let out an exasperated “Come on!” Still, 80 per cent of the units were sold in a matter of weeks.

One Bloor East was by no means the only condo project to inspire such fervour during the boom. The Shangri-La hotel and condos at University and Adelaide, the Aura condo at Yonge and Gerrard and the Trump Tower at 311 Bay all garnered their share of excitement and controversy. But there was something special about 1BE. It cast its spindly shadow over the entire industry. Roy Varacalli, the in-house architect for Bazis International, described the Yonge-Bloor intersection as “the crossroads of the city and the country.” The tower promised to transform a moribund jumble of low-rise retail into a bustling urban nexus. Its 78 luxurious storeys would perch atop a three-level, gilded podium of retail; celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay was reportedly approached to run the restaurant of a five-star Sofitel Hotel. No aspect of the project went unhyped: an e‑vite depicting a backhoe scooping up a clump of oversized gems asked people to “come and be a part of demolition” on May 29, 2008. Yet since the demolition, One Bloor East has been as quiet as a mausoleum. The project has become an emblem of our collective financial insanity. The questions of industry watchers, condo purchasers and curious passersby are twofold: what stalled the tower’s heavenward march? And will it go up at all?

Toronto is home to the most active condo industry in North America. One reason for this is our greenbelt legislation, which has encouraged developers to build up rather than out. Another is that most of the city’s apartment buildings were constructed in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, and little purpose-built rental accommodation has been added since. The condo market has become our rental market.

In 2007, at the height of the boom, the number of new condo units sold in Toronto was 22,654, up a whopping 40 per cent over 2006. There were 103 new condo projects launched that year in the census metropolitan area (or CMA, which accounts for most of the GTA). In 2008, sales of new condos dropped to 14,469, with the number of new projects reduced to 78. This year, by the end of the first quarter, only one project had been launched. If the market doesn’t improve, the current supply of new condos (i.e., those already or nearly built) could be quickly absorbed over the next couple of years, and there won’t be enough supply to meet the demand of a growing population and a changing demographic.

Jane Renwick, executive vice-president of the real estate consultancy Urbanation, projects there will be a further 45 per cent fall-off in new condo sales this year. For developers, it’s a vicious circle: new condos rely entirely on pre-sales (in Canada, projects can’t qualify for financing until 70 per cent of units are sold), and when consumer confidence is low, buying a property before it’s built seems like an especially risky proposition. You are essentially buying a promise.

“Overall, things are not in irredeemable shape,” says Renwick. But the spotlight is on one or two mega-projects, and their fate has the power to chill an entire buying population. That spotlight, once carefully cultivated and guarded by eager developers, has now become an inconvenience. Companies are learning that there’s no off switch when things go awry.

Bazis International is new to the Toronto condo scene, with three other developments currently in the works: Crystal Blu at 21 Balmuto, the stalled Emerald Park at the southwest corner of Yonge and Sheppard, and the proposed Exhibit opposite the ROM Crystal on Bloor. Loquacious to a fault when its projects debuted, Bazis has lately gone quiet; its only recent contact with buyers was a notice of extension informing them that, in accordance with standard purchase contracts, digging at 1BE would be delayed until June 15.

This sudden coyness has not ingrati-ated Bazis with One Bloor East buyers or industry watchers. Real estate blogs are rife with scuttlebutt on the seeming complexity of the project’s financing. “We’re freaking here. What’s going on?” wrote one person on the UrbanToronto forum. “We’ve waited for decades for something to replace the eyesores on that corner,” wrote another. “If this doesn’t get off the ground, it could be a decade before anything gets built there.” One poster, bemoaning the lack of com­munication from Bazis, said they’d written the local councillor instead. “It’s better than nothing.” To date, there are at least 3,550 posts related to One Bloor East.

Bazis comes to us by way of Kazakhstan, an oil- and gas-rich nation nestled between Russia and China, once a favoured location for gulags and hydrogen bomb testing. At first glance, it seems baffling that a Kazakh company would choose Toronto as a location for a half-billion-dollar mixed-use tower. But the reasons aren’t hard to discern. Through the boom times, Kazakhstan, like other commodities-jacked insta-countries, grew at twice the average rate of the world economy, and the wealth needed somewhere to spread. Toronto represented the relative stability of the western world at a massive discount. Even at the height of the bubble, prices here were extremely low compared with those in other major North American centres, to say nothing of London and Paris. For a signature plot of land at the city’s vital axis point, Bazis dropped a mere $78 million. Michael Gold, Bazis International’s 45-year-old president, still thinks Toronto is the best city in North America in which to invest. “This is not the United States, where the leverage situation was out of control. We are politically and economically stable,” he says.

Though Bazis International is based in Concord, Ontario, it’s directly linked to economic conditions in Kazakhstan. Bazis‑A, its sister company, is headquartered in the former capital city of Almaty. It has also been actively involved in the Dubai-like renaissance taking place on a stretch of the Kazakh steppe that president Nursultan Nazarbayev designated the country’s new, post-Communist capital. He called it Astana, and it’s a jaw-on-the-floor hallucinatory mind trip. Buildings rear up into the sky, glinting like costume jewellery on an ugly debutante. There are towers with gold domes, skyscrapers housing hanging gardens, a glass pyramid designed by the architect Sir Norman Foster. On a clear day, Astana looks like something dreamed up by George Lucas.

Recently, thanks to the drop in commodity prices and Kazakhstan’s loose banking regulations, the country has been walloped by the financial crisis. Its biggest bank, BTA, has been nationalized; the chairman, a one-time opposition leader, is on the run. And Bazis has not gone unscathed. Its biggest development, the three-skyscraper Emerald Towers in Astana—which was designed by Roy Varacalli and was the inspiration for the project at Yonge and Sheppard—has been halted mid-construction. The rest of Astana is scarred by open foundations, abandoned scaffolding and the stumps of towers. A place of promise is now an example of a city in collapse. It is a warning.

Will One Bloor East share the Emerald Towers’ fate? There is one glaring problem with the project’s financial situation: Lehman Brothers is on the title. The plot was assembled over the years by Kolter Group, a real estate investment firm that left Toronto to concentrate on its holdings in now financially decimated Florida. In December 2006, Kolter sold over 40,000 square feet of the site to a limited partnership between Bazis International and Lehman Brothers for $62,812,670. The southwest corner of the lot was owned by Scotiabank, who sold it to the same limited partnership for $13,750,000; the city sold the lane running off Hayden Street for about $1.7 million. (Lehman Brothers is also on the title of Emerald Park.)

On September 15, 2008, the world woke up to learn that one of the largest investment banks on the planet had collapsed, sending tens of billions of dollars into the economic ether. Lehman’s unravelling had a double impact on the 1BE project: not only did it sink the financing already in place, but it also froze credit markets around the world. Bazis, like everyone else, was caught off guard. “In 2007, if you said that Lehman Brothers would go bankrupt, people would have laughed at you,” says Gold. “It was bigger than all the Canadian banks combined. How could we have known?” For the development to continue, Lehman Brothers will have to be removed from the 1BE title. The process has been dragging through the U.S. court system. On June 15, Bazis will enter a 31-day period during which it can notify buyers that it is cancelling construction and returning their deposits (currently held in trust by a law firm). If the company doesn’t cancel construction during that period, the purchase agreements become binding. Beyond the 31 days, the longer the construction is delayed, the more difficult it becomes for buyers to recover their money. Gold says the company will consider its options come June, but that he’s confident 1BE will go ahead. “It’s a great plot,” he says. “It’s just that the rules have changed on us.”

If One Bloor East fails, there will be significant ramifications for the city. Toronto has become addicted to the tax dollars gener­ated by condo developments, especially luxury ones. Cash-starved municipalities dream of million-dollar homes piled on top of each other, which explains York­ville’s transformation from low-rise coziness to high-rise haven. Fully occupied, One Bloor East would generate millions of dollars for the city on an annual basis. It would also create four to five thousand jobs—a miniature economic universe at Yonge and Bloor.

Hersh Litvak, an agent with RE/MAX Realtron Realty who was first in the infamous lineup, is resolute about the building’s future. Litvak has sold 50 condos to a host of clients. “They aren’t nervous; they just want to know when it will be built. I’m telling them that Bazis doesn’t have a financing problem. It has a legal problem.” But the legal problem becomes a financial problem: the dormant site is an enormous money drain. There are architects, consultants, lawyers and contractors to pay, and a $78-million dust bowl can run up a hefty property tax bill.

Frustrated though they may be, buyers have no recourse at this point. Bazis is well within its rights. “The company is going to do everything it can to get this going,” says Litvak. “It’s at the mercy of the courts and the litigation system in the U.S. Anyone in their right mind will do the financing.”

However, lending has become a lot more complicated in the past six months. Regulations are tighter, and each bank is limiting the amount of money it’s willing to throw at a project. So instead of dealing directly with one deep-pocketed institution, developers must now appeal to a consortium of lenders. Gold confirms that Bazis is in conversation with eight to 10 financial institutions, including European pension funds. “It’s better than it was six months ago,” he says, “when none of the banks trusted each other.” He’s hoping to have financing arranged for the moment Lehman Brothers is off the title, and construction plans in place this month. Despite all the uncertainty, the company continues to peddle its remaining units: the tiny Life 690, a one-bedroom, is currently listed at $569,900; the expansive Dream 2580 (two bedrooms with a library and family room) will run you a tidy $4.2 million.

Toronto has been lucky. It has not suffered the partially built towers that litter the Astana skyline and creep ever closer to home: Chicago’s Waterview has stalled at 20-plus floors, and Vancouver has several gaping holes that will be there to greet Olympics spectators next February. Nonetheless, One Bloor East has been a lesson in pre- and post-crisis real estate development. The global embrace that defined the boom’s mega-deals—where a company originating in Kazakhstan could get Ameri­can financing for a Canadian skyscraper—are now recalled with nostalgia. Until all the deals are inked—and perhaps for sometime after—the spectral 1BE teeters like a jury-rigged hut. It has yet to be built, but it is already a relic of another time.

1 Bloor East Buyers to Regain Deposits
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Biggest Real Estate Losers
In 2003, Dubai announced it was building the world's largest theme park around the world's largest shopping mall. No one batted an eye. By mid-decade, real estate speculation was so rampant that every other television show demonstrated how to "flip" houses to turn a quick profit. No longer. With global economies reeling and banks taking few risks, financing for ambitious real estate ventures has all but disappeared. In March, 126,000 U.S. construction jobs were lost, and a recent report by Emporis found that construction has stalled on 142 of 1,324 skyscrapers around the world. Five-star hotels and luxury condominiums are particularly vulnerable in this new era of frugality, as are many Persian Gulf projects that were green-lighted when oil was still $100 a barrel.

And what about all the "starchitect"-designed buildings that aspired to be the tallest on their continents? They seem more hubristic than optimistic in 2009. In a fitting metaphor for the stunted market, buildings designed by the likes of Frank Gehry and Norman Foster are being downsized to more modest heights.

Here's a look at 20 ventures that have suffered setbacks, or even frozen completely, in this new real estate Ice Age.


Chicago Spire
Location: Chicago
Architect: Santiago Calatrava
Developer: Shelbourne Development
Financial Backers: Garrett Kelleher (Shelbourne Development), Anglo Irish Bank

This spiraling tower on Lakeshore Drive was set to be the tallest structure in the Western Hemisphere. Currently, it's a pit—110-feet wide and 7-stories deep. Developer Garrett Kelleher (pictured) sank $180 million of his own funds into the venture, stalled since January, and Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava filed a lien claim against the project for the millions he is owed. With few other financing prospects, Kelleher is reportedly in talks with the AFL-CIO, which may loan the funds in exchange for the thousands of union construction jobs it would generate.

Waterview Tower
Location: Chicago
Architect: Thomas Hoepf (Teng & Associates)
Developer: Teng & Associates
Financial Backers: Ivan Dvorak (Teng & Associates), LaSalle Bank (now owned by Bank of America), Export-Import Bank of China

Construction on this Wacker Drive high-rise came to a screeching halt in summer 2008 when a $400 million loan from the Export-Import Bank of China was suspended. The mixed-use building, which was scheduled for completion in 2010, was to house residential condominiums and a five-star Shangri-La Hotel. But the Hong Kong-based hotel chain pulled out in March, and the sad concrete frame is stalled at 26 stories—out of a planned 90 floors.

Xanadu
Location: Meadowlands, N.J.
Architect: Rockwell Group
Developer: Meadowlands Development
Financial Backers: Colony Capital, Dune Capital Management, Credit Suisse, KanAm, Xanadu Mezz Holdings

Xanadu, one of the largest commercial real estate ventures in the U.S., was extravagant even in boom times. The sprawling mall, which sits on 4.8 million square feet of land, was to contain more than 200 stores, an indoor ski hill, a Ferris wheel, and a chocolate waterfall. However, the $2.2 billion project, originally scheduled to open in 2007, has been plagued by delays and vacancies. Some tenants have filed for bankruptcy or backed out of their leases, while others are negotiating with the developer to delay their openings. In March, a non-bankrupt Lehman Brothers affiliate defaulted on its loan, jeopardizing the mall's completion and leading a New Jersey state senator to dub it the "Mistake at the Meadowlands."

Harmon Hotel
Location: Las Vegas
Architect: Foster + Partners
Developer: MGM Mirage/CityCenter Holdings
Financial Backers: CityCenter Holdings, Dubai World

The Harmon Hotel is part of a $9 billion mixed-use development being built by the MGM Mirage on the Vegas Strip. The hotel's opening has been postponed to 2010, and the future of the whole glitzy complex, dubbed CityCenter, is in question. MGM Mirage, controlled by billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian, is hemorrhaging money and venture partner Dubai World is suing over the project's busted budget. Now the builder has decided to shrink the Harmon Hotel by half, eliminating the residential portion. The developer is blaming a construction flaw for the change of plan, but less than half of the condos had been sold and the new blueprint is expected to save CityCenter at least $600 million.

Trump International Hotel and Towers
Location: New Orleans
Architect: Adache Architects and Harry Baker Smith Architects
Developer: Poydras, Trump Organization

If anyone is vulnerable to the violent swings of the high-end property market, it's Donald Trump. His $400 million luxury hotel, which will be the tallest building in the Big Easy if it's ever built, has been put on ice until the credit market rebounds. The hotel has been plagued by bad timing from the onset, having been announced just days before Hurricane Katrina made landfall. And it's not the only venture bearing the Trump name to suffer setbacks. Construction on the Trump Tower in Dubai was suspended in 2008; Trump Tower Tampa never got off the ground; and the colossal Trump Tower in Chicago remains largely vacant.

56 Leonard
Location: New York
Architect: Herzog & de Meuron
Developer: Alexico Group

The Swiss architects' fame quotient rocketed during last summer's Beijing Olympics thanks to their acclaimed Bird's Nest Stadium, and 56 Leonard was to be their first residential high-rise. This TriBeCa skyscraper (image taken from the construction's flashy Web site) was to feature glass cubes stacked in a precarious-looking cantilevered tower, with the least expensive units priced at $3.5 million. The foundation was laid in November and occupancy was scheduled for fall 2010, but work has been shut down temporarily.

ICON Brickell
Location: Miami
Architect: Philippe Starck
Developer: Related Group
Financial Backer: HSBC Realty Credit Corp.

The Sunbelt has been hit hard by the real estate bust, and no region has seen as dramatic a reversal of fortunes as South Florida, where the once-hot housing market is now languishing. Jorge Perez, the "Condo King" of Miami, knows this better than anyone. ICON Brickell, his three-tower luxury complex in Downtown Miami, threatens to be the undoing of the Cuban billionaire. The sprawling development is shaping up to be the $1.3 billion embodiment of mid-decade excess. By the end of 2008, only 55% of the 1,646 luxury condos were sold, and many buyers are attempting to wriggle out of their contracts. Perez's company is facing nearly $2 billion in debt and recently implored banks for more time to repay loans.
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You Should Have Bought 2 Months Ago
[truecondos.com - May 09]

The Toronto condo market is hot right now. No seriously, it is.

After months of writing to my readers about how slow the market has been, there has been a fundamental shift in the marketplace over the past 4 weeks. Multiple offers are back with a vengeance. The best properties are selling over asking and in less than 1 week. Buyers are feeling the pinch and I am starting to get used to the phrase ’sorry, that property is sold’ when I go to book appointments for my buyer-clients.

The stats for April should be released by the Toronto Real Estate Board any day now, and they will almost certainly reveal that sales are up and prices are up beyond what anyone was anticipating for this month.

Why? What happened? Has Barrack Obama worked some kind of magical spell over our economy? Are things not nearly as bad as everyone thinks they are? Are we all just living in denial and making things worse on ourselves by buying up all this real estate?

My thoughts on what has caused this recent upswing in the market:

1. Affordability. Prices have come down about 10% overall since the peak about a year ago. Interest rates have been basically cut in half since about 18 months ago.

2. Spring Fever. Every year at this time the market is at its hottest. This is always the busy season, so in that sense this upswing shouldn’t surprise us.

3. Changing Attitudes. Sellers are more realistic on their asking prices, and buyers are more aggressive as many have been waiting to buy for 6 months or more.

4. Canadian Pride. People are starting to see and believe that maybe it’s true - things here in Canada are not nearly as bad as they are in the rest of the world. Where is the best place for your money to be long-term? Many are thinking once again the answer is real estate.

5. The Investor Equation. For the past couple years, it was very difficult to find a cash-flow positive condo in Toronto with 25% down. Now, due to lowered interest rates and lowered prices, with rents staying pretty flat, it is.

All this is leading many people to wonder if the bottom of the market was back in January or February. Certainly there were some great bargains had during those months compared to what we are seeing today.
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5/21/2009

Toronto Seen

A Weekend in Toronto
As one of the planet's most diverse cities, lakeside Toronto offers a kaleidoscope of world cultures.

Brookfield Place (formerly BCE Place), home to the Hockey Hall of Fame, is an office complex in downtown Toronto. The steel and glass atrium was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

Brookfield Place is one of North America’s truly great people places. This landmark is located in the heart of the financial district, and is home to the world’s most prestigious financial, commercial and legal firms, as well as the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Bounded by Bay, Wellington, Yonge and Front Streets, the 5 1/2 acre, 2.6 million square foot complex combines two architecturally stunning office towers with Toronto’s oldest intact streetscape, including the award-winning Allen Lambert Galleria – a six storey pedestrian thoroughfare resplendent in light and glass. [brookfieldproperties.com]


The Allen Lambert Galleria, sometimes described as the "crystal cathedral of commerce", was the result of an international competition and was incorporated into the development in order to satisfy the City of Toronto's public art requirements. Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, it is one of the most photographed spaces in Toronto's financial district, and is heavily featured as a backdrop for news reports, as well as TV and film productions. As pictured above, the interior illustrates Calatrava's signature organic style, with a vaulted ceiling that is intended to evoke an avenue of trees. [wikipedia.org]

Silks are piled high at Chandan Fashion in Little India.

Housed in a Victorian-style landmark, the Gladstone Hotel reopened in 2005 as a modern boutique hotel at the edge of West Queen Street. The wood-paneled bars and galleries are also a popular hangout for the local arts and gay scene.

A serious rehab of Toronto's oldest continuously operating hotel—now fully engaged with its trendy art-and-design neighborhood. Exuberant rooms designed by local artists; it's like spending a night at the museum, an avant-garde one at that. Outrageous weekend karaoke nights, hand-operated Victorian elevator, local art "installations." Get ready to enjoy a cultural sparkplug of Toronto's delightfully diverse Queen West scene. 37 rooms; from $103. [National Geographic Traveler - Apr.09]

Culinary hot spots include Nyood, a pan-Mediterranean restaurant with big chandeliers and frilly molding.

REVIEWS
If you want to be seen (and not heard), then this is a place to be. If you want to find an overpriced whore on a saturday night, as someone above posted, then this is also your place. If you're looking for a strong ratio of experience in flavor versus the price you pay, then this sadly, is not the place.

I went here awhile ago and I honestly can't remember what I ate. That can't be a good sign for a restaurant. What I do remember is that their desserts were amazing. Since we were there so late the waiter kindly gave us a variety of desserts. When a restaurant gives me a variety of desserts, I call that a bonus. When they're actually good, that's another bonus.

This restaurant is by far the most imaginative, most stylish, best serviced resto that there is in the city. Where else are you going to get a whole fish grilled to perfection, they even grill the lemon and will debone the fish for you. Where else in the city can you find such a menu, music, or decor. The staff here blow me away. They are some of the most polished, most professional servers and bartenders. Overall, Nyood is a fantastic restaurant to go to if you want fantastic food, drinks, service and ambience. And in the summer it gets even better when they open the 20 feet massive doors to the outside. Wish they did brunch!!!

Look at me, NO, LOOK AT ME, I'm FABulous, no?
That pretty much sums up Nyood. Yes, the small plates are great and somewhat inventive, however, the prices are a little over the top. I've had dinner at Colborne Lane and Kultura, but Nyood by far has the most dramatic scene. If you're looking to feel hip and cool and want to check out the latest in fashion, this is the place to be.

After midnight, the Nyood dining area is buzzing, making it a great place to observe the more interesting and entertaining people who frequent this place. Most nights, we're as likely to stop by here for the good food as we are for the people-watching.

This appeared to be the best Tapas place for vegetarian options, and there aren't many vege places with class. Great restaurant design, comfortable but not exactly cozy. Innovative food. We asked the waiter to deliver the tastiest vege tapas, and that she indeed did - with only one exception. Coupled with delish martinis and a bottle of Aussie cab/sangiovese, we left feeling exceedingly sated. If you've never been before, let the staff pick. Service was personable and impeccable.... Not a cheap night, but we closed the restaurant.

The service was all over the place and three times intrusive wait staff tried to clear our plates/ramekins before we were finished; as if anybody would leave unconsumed what little food was provided! $300.00 for three people to have dinner and leave hungry...they are trying too hard to be hip and different and have forgotten that a restaurant's primary function is to feed people. On a positive note the white wine sangria was yummy.

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36 Hours in Toronto
[May 09]
As one of the planet’s most diverse cities, Toronto is oddly clean and orderly. Sidewalks are spotless, trolleys run like clockwork, and the locals are polite almost to a fault. That’s not to say that Torontonians are dull. Far from it. With a population that is now half foreign-born — fueled by growing numbers of East Indians, Chinese and Sri Lankans — the lakeside city offers a kaleidoscope of world cultures. Sing karaoke in a Vietnamese bar, sip espresso in Little Italy and catch a new Bollywood release, all in one night. The art and design scenes are thriving, too, and not just on the bedazzled red carpets of the Toronto International Film Festival, held every September. Industrial zones have been reborn into gallery districts, and dark alleys now lead to designer studios, giving Canada’s financial capital an almost disheveled mien. [...]
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O Canada, Where Have Your Bargains Gone?
[May 08]
Once upon a time, not all that long ago, there existed a magical country that was a lot like the United States, only less expensive. Its enchanted currency — the other dollar — allowed Americans to indulge as they could not back home. This delightful fantasyland was called Canada, and for centuries it was synonymous with frugality.

No more. With the precipitous decline of the United States dollar, Canada has slid off the budget-travel map, and nowhere is the challenge to stay frugal greater than in Toronto, a city of 2.5 million whose ascendancy is not merely attributable to fluctuating exchange rates. Toronto has, in recent years, become a hub of development, an eating-and-shopping paradise and even a celebrity magnet: Jay-Z held his bachelor party at the Lobby Bar and Restaurant, where the Zen Margarita costs a whopping 25 Canadian dollars (about $25 U.S., give or take a buck, since the two currencies have been close to parity since last fall).

As the Frugal Traveler, however, I live for this sort of challenge, and so in late April, I set off for Hogtown — so nicknamed for the abattoirs that once dotted downtown — to attempt a weekend of revelry on a budget of $500. I arrived early on a sunny Friday afternoon, winging in on Porter Airlines, a budget carrier that at the end of March began nonstop service from Newark (with one-way fares as low as $99). Not only was the flight itself surprisingly pleasant (free red wine — in an actual glass!), but it landed me at the City Centre Airport, on an island but right downtown, just a 400-foot ferry ride away. [...]


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5/20/2009

Indie Bookstores

David Mirvish Books to Close
[Globe and Mail - Jan.09]

One of Canada's oldest and most popular independent bookstores, Toronto's David Mirvish Books, is closing its doors at the end of February.

The store, specializing in books on visual arts, architecture, photography, design and film, was opened in 1974 on Markham St., near the famous Honest Ed's department store. The store, the brainchild of theatre impresario David Mirvish, son of Toronto businessman and philanthropist Honest Ed Mirvish, was first located in a building across the street from its current site. Its present home had been a gallery for contemporary art owned by David Mirvish and a few years after the gallery's closure, in 1975, he moved the store into its premises.

Eleanor Johnston, manager of the store for more than 25 years, said yesterday there was no one reason for the store's Feb. 28 closing. "David [Mirvish] just thought it was time, that the retail world has indeed changed a lot. Of course, it's always changing... There's always been something with the economy, the currency, the chains duking it out. It's not really a question of us not really being able to keep weathering those shifting sands, to mix metaphors. I think we just decided, 'It's just enough, it's time.'"

Johnston, who started as a clerk at the store 31 years ago, said Mirvish will move its out-of-print and rare books on-line and "make them available to the world." But the bricks-and-mortar operation is kaput. She said Mirvish has not yet decided what do with the high-ceilinged room, although the famous 50-foot-long Frank Stella abstraction, "Damascus Gate," will occupy its west wall for the time being.

"It's a problematic space in some respects," she laughed. "It's an event to change a light bulb."

The closing of Mirvish Books will be the second shuttering of a specialty book outlet in Mirvish Village in less than a year. Last fall Ballenford Books, specializing in architecture titles, closed for the final time. It started in 1979.

COMMENTS
[thestar.com]
The problem with online buying of art books is that you don't get to leaf through the book before you pay the huge price. The AGO bookshop is a shadow of what it was pre-'Transformation'. Buying art history books just got more difficult.

I will miss this book store. Christopher Morley writes of used bookstores as being something of a hub/nexus for the creative people of the world- in my long experience with Mirvish Books, it is one of the few new book stores that has a transcendent feel of the air full of ideas, sparks of inspiration, and a decent dose of bibliomania as per Morley's used bookstores. It is a special, physical place the online cannot, ever, touch.

Word on the street is that Mirvish had no issues with the bookstore, but preferred to turn it into a private gallery for his art collection, which won't even be open to the public. I guess when you own all the buidlings on the block, you can change a neighborhood's dynamic as you see fit. But it's a shame to see a landmark go and staff laid off on a whim. Makes one wonder how long Honest Ed's will last before he turns it into a condo.

What a shame. The architecture and scholastic community didn't come together to help Ballenford out. Now the combined arch/art/photography/design/film community in Toronto is going to let another landmark die. It's sad really, but what's worse are the university arch/art/fine art hist/photography/design/film professors who encourage their students to buy off Amazon rather then ordering en masse from these local retailers. Yes, Amazon has great selection, but local retailers can find you anything as well, AND THEY'RE PART of the COMMUNITY, which means they can do so much more. When's the last time Amazon held a lecture series? Shame.

I remember first coming here as a young designer in the late 1980's to get my art book fix. I've since gone there at least 5 times a year over the last 25 years. I will miss it and their very knowledgeable staff.


David Mirvish Books - Final Moments
*sigh*
*double sigh*
I don't live in Toronto, but when I'm up there, I love checking out some of your indie, smaller book stores.
Seeing the pictures, with the smiles, knowing it's ending, makes this even more sad.

I loved this place! I bought most of my UofT art/art history books here :(
I didn't even know they were closing! or else I would have gone down there!
RIP - I hope they do better online (but somehow I doubt that) because, "It's about coming here and reading and touching and feeling the books." so true

If you're still interested in drooling over and fondling art and design books ... there is always SWiPE, located in the 401 Richmond building.

Well, all I see are people complaining they can't go browse anymore. Maybe if more people actually bought the books, they'd stay open. It's a business, not a library.
Use it or lose it.

DM books didn't close because too many people were "fondling books". It wasn't because they were financially in the hole, or the rent was too high. The Mirvishes have deep pockets, and paid no rent as they own the building. David hasn't been involved with the book business for years, and it's no secret that he's re-focused the Mirvish biz on the theatre district.
I recommend everyone do themselves a favour and start fondling some books at SWIPE - their stock is phenomenal, they could use the extra business, and the owner is a really great guy.


David Mirvish Books




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Swipe Books
[blogto.com - Feb. 09]

As I repeatedly circled around Richmond and Adelaide in search of the new location of Swipe Books, I began to wonder how a store so difficult to find could have any chance of survival. After about four loops in my car and the utterance of just a few expletives, I had the radical thought that maybe I should double-check my notes to confirm the address. Suffice to say, I might have kept circling all day had I not had that vague (and not altogether rare) feeling that, despite my annoyance, maybe it was me who was the idiot. After all, it's pretty hard to find a store located at 401 Richmond when searching desperately for 410 Richmond.

Once I had the correct address, it was a cinch to find Swipe. In fact, the building in which it is located is one that I've walked through a number of times in the past (before the store's arrival). A restored tin factory that houses a vibrant mix of studios, galleries and a few commercial spaces, 401 Richmond might just be the perfect location for a store that specializes in books on graphic design, architecture and the built environment. That is, if it weren't for that fact that the building offers no street-front space. Wrong address or not, I probably wouldn't have continually missed Swipe if it had a street presence, a point that's not lost on the store's owner, David Michaelides. One of his chief worries when he moved into the current space in May 2008 was that the location within a larger building might cast Swipe both out of sight and out of mind.

This, of course, begs the question: why did he move in the first place? Typically, his reasons had to do primarily with survival. As he frankly explained to me, "at the end of a lease cycle, pretty much all independent bookstores have to move." He should know; he's been in the book business coming on thirty years. And even when they're pretty successful, he continued, "they just can't afford to renew." For sad proof of this, consider the collective fates of Ballenford Books, Pages, and David Mirvish Books, all of which are closed or closing. One of the great difficulties, according to David, is that even when a bookseller has been astute in his choice of an up and coming area, he's still inevitably priced out of the market when the neighbourhood becomes established. In other words, you're damned if you do find a great location and damned if you don't.

So what to do? Well, despite the doom and gloom, the very fact that Swipe is still with us speaks to the viability - however precarious - of independent booksellers. But, to maintain their presence throughout the city, David muses that we might need to radically rethink how such bookstores operate and the nature of services that they provide. While they're clearly commercial enterprises, it might be more accurate to liken these stores to art galleries (most of which are also commercial, lest we forget). After all, where else is one so welcomed to loiter? And beyond this, having something of a patron figure can help to keep the doors open. Without getting into financial specifics, Margaret Zeidler, the owner/landlord of the building has been supportive of Swipe, believing not only in the concept of the store, but what it brings to a building occupied primarily by private galleries and studios.

I like this idea. When I go to bookstores, the experience is similar to the one I have at art galleries: a sort of meandering walkabout with plenty of time for contemplation. And hey, as expensive as some books are, they're cheaper than most pieces of art. Speaking of which, Swipe in particular seems a good example of this mix between gallery and store. Over the eight years it's been open, Swipe has gradually carried more and more non-book items in the form of exemplary pieces of design that range from the idiosyncratic and cheap (think egg-timer), to the sophisticated and pricey (think stainless steel juicer). There's also a well-stocked children's area, including books and toys. These items account for about half of the store's revenue, which might be high for a place that still characterizes itself as a bookstore first and foremost. But, that's just the nature of profit margins.

For all the promise that David sees in the new location, he still uses a rather apt screen analogy to summarize what it's like in the independent book business. Most will remember the famous opening scene from Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Harrison Ford narrowly escapes being crushed by a massive stone boulder. David likens his position to this frantic attempt to escape a boulder that is already in motion. What I find worrisome about this analogy, however, is that though Jones does indeed escape the cave (and the boulder), when he tumbles into the outside world, he is greeted by his archaeological nemesis, Belloq, who relieves him of his prized artifact. Left with nothing to show for his ingenuity and heroism, Indy must once again thwart death as he runs to his escape plane. But, alas, it doesn't matter because he isn't in it for the profit, but for the adventure. For better or for worse, this may be the case for David, too. And when was the last time you saw a blockbuster about a bookseller? (And, no, You've Got Mail doesn't count!)

COMMENTS
[blogto.com]
David's an incredibly entertaining guy to talk to - I spoke to him on the day it was announced that DM Books was shuttering. If you want to get into a heated yet jovial conversation about the current state of the book industry, I recommend you go up and introduce yourself to him.
It should also be noted that there are plans to expand the current space - David mentioned that this would happen within the next few months. I think their new space is absolutely beautiful, and I can't wait to see how it evolves.

I've shopped at sw pe for years, from the DX to Richmond to the 401. I like the fact that i can go in look at stuff that inspire me as a designer. The fact I can pick things up and examine them as to just looking at a picture of it online makes a difference to me. I will always support sw pe, we need more business like this it's what makes living in Toronto so great. I hate to think of the alternative like what is happening just up the street on Queen St.




David Michaelides, owner of Swipe


The rumours are true, Swipe has opened a second shop in a beautiful, high-profile suite on the ground floor of 401 Richmond Street West. BUILT, Books on Architecture is hoped, in the fullness of time, to fill the void left by the (really, really depressing) closure last year of the venerable Ballenford Books. For more than 30 years a succession of Susans served the community with a commitment and a level of expertise that we cannot hope to match, at least in the short term. In fact, so as not to make matters worse for our colleagues, Swipe avoided architecture as a subject area altogether for as long Ballenford was in business, with the result that we now feel embarrassingly ill-prepared and uninformed. So … um … help!

E-mail us and let us know what you need, want, or would just like to see at the new shop. Or drop by and see what’s here and what’s missing. We’re open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm and we’ve even got windows! Please help us to make this your community bookstore. [swipe.com]
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The Best Bookstores in Toronto
Operating a bookstore in Toronto may not be the most lucrative business these days. The dominance of mega-chain Chapters Indigo, online retailers like Amazon.ca and the rise of the Canadian dollar have resulted in a permanent shift in the industry dynamic. The good news is that the many popular book sellers who remain have made their stores better by distinguishing themselves on features like the quality of their selection, helpful service and ties to the local community.

With so many diverse independent bookstores in Toronto, it's difficult to narrow the offerings down to the ten best. Science fiction fans might lament the exclusion of Bakka-Phoenix. Children and their parents might not forgive us for overlooking Mables Fables. And playwrights might hunt us down on the account of our omission of TheatreBooks. And that's just the tip of the snubbed-list iceberg.

Ultimately our list of Toronto's best bookstores came down to the nominations and votes from our readers. Perhaps to nobody's surprise, perennial favourite Pages Books & Magazines secured the top spot. Among other qualifications, Pages has been a long-time supporter of local and independent publishers and hosts the widely-successful This is Not a Reading Series. Below we present our top ten bookstores in Toronto. To discover more Toronto bookstores click over to our bookstore section.

COMMENTS
[blogto.com]
Really enjoying all your Best Ofs, but you've missed the boat on this one. Most of this list reads like it was compiled 5 years ago. Ben McNally Books is a far superior bookstore, actively involved in the literary and publishing communities, and it has a far larger selection than most of the bookstores listed here, especially boutique Type and This Ain't the Rosedale Library, which seem more interested in promoting graphic novels than books without pictures.

Totally agree with you, James. Ben McNally is a one-man bookselling institution in Toronto, and has been for more than 15 years. Nicholas Hoare is another perennial favourite.

No way. Monkey's Paw. #1.

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Ben McNally Books
[blogto.com - Jan.09]

I feel a confession is in order at the outset of this profile: these days I buy almost all my books online. It didn't used to be so. There was a time when I was addicted to bookstore hopping, when I loved the possibility of finding hidden gems tucked away in the used shops across the city, and when searching out books was as much about chatting with the clerks or owners as it was about actually buying anything.

I share this bit of guilty nostalgia because I get the feeling that there are others out there who have also slipped into such a habit, almost unknowingly, and sometimes it's good to remember why bookstores can be such stimulating places. But, of course, it's easy to romanticize things like this. Not all bookstores are created equal, the prices online are certainly cheaper, and those characteristics that I'm so fond of in great stores are becoming harder to find. It's for all these reasons that I was excited to drop by Ben McNally's Books and chat the owner up about his store's relatively recent opening and the state of independent booksellers in general. Maybe, I thought, a conversation with someone who's been in the business for forty years would inspire me to get back to my old book-buying ways.

Although the store that bears his name only opened in September 2007, many Toronto bibliophiles know Ben from his long time as the manager of Nicholas Hoare Books. In getting to know about his new venture, the first question that I was eager to ask was why he chose the Financial District as his location. When I think of independent booksellers, I tend to associate them with more residential areas, like BMV and Book City in the Annex, or Type and The Monkey's Paw in and around Dundas West.

But, as Ben explained, there is an obvious logic to why he chose Bay and Richmond to set up shop. Because he tends to stock a high percentage of first-run hardcovers, a well-to-do clientele is an obvious bonus (if not necessity). Not only that, based on the hourly traffic in the area, he can close the store at an early 6pm (and on Sundays), which allows for a variety of events to take place in 2500 square foot space after hours.

McNally's doesn't really specialize in any one genre, but if there's a focus on a particular type of book, it'd be on what Ben jokingly calls " the good ones," those nice looking hardcovers that people tend to want to keep around for the long haul, whether it be history, biography or fiction (genres in which he's well stocked).

As the bookseller for the Harbourfront Reading Series, he also has quite a number of signed editions from some of the authors who've participated over the years. In keeping with this desire to cater to those who collect books, the store itself is a warm, wood-paneled space that's reminiscent of an old library. Not overly cramped, it tends to invite patrons to browse through the various sections scattered throughout the room. It might even be fair to say that based on its size and decor, this is an independent bookstore that doesn't look like an independent bookstore.

I wonder, however, is that enough? Yes, the space is nice, and so too are the books. But, the other main question I had for Ben was how he would distinguish his store from the big chains and online retailers. His answer was surprisingly honest. If, he mused, the customer knows exactly what he or she is looking for, those other options do make a lot of sense.

But, on the other hand, for those who don't already have a title in mind, who'd like some hands-on guidance or recommendations, Ben's happy to help. It's the interactive experience that independent bookstores build their reputation on. While this may seem obvious, it's clear that Ben takes pride in helping people with their book selections, noting, for instance, how many regular customers he has and how often he consults with people participating in book clubs.

As I was leaving, we spoke briefly about the economic downturn and how it was impacting the book business. Although he said it was too early to tell in relation to his business, he did leave me with a statement that I think paints a good picture of his attitude in general. "Books should be a haven in hard times, because when you think about it, they're really an amazing value."

COMMENTS
[blogto.com]
Hurrah for Ben McNally, who exemplifies what independent bookselling is all about. And while it may be cheaper to buy online and to hit up chain stores for deep discounts, it is an entirely different and rewarding experience to walk into a store like his. It's the Church of Book Lovers. (As is Pages and Nicholas Hoare).

Ben is probably the best individual bookseller in the city, maybe the country.




Columbine by Dave Cullen
In the tradition of Helter Skelter and In Cold Blood, Columbine is destined to be a classic. A close-up portrait of hatred, a community rendered helpless, and police blunders and cover-ups, it is a compelling and utterly human portrait of two killers. [benmcnallybooks.com]


QUOTE
Don't rush the healing.

REVIEW
Not since Capote's In Cold Blood do we find such a thoughtful, illuminating, riveting, and disturbing portrait of the criminal mind. Columbine doesn't just explode the myths of what happened that day and why. Instead the book carefully dissects our biases, revealing a populace eager to blame this tragedy on poor parenting, Satan, rock music, or goth kids because it is simpler and more convenient than hearing the truth.

And the truth is that Eric Harris was a born psychopath and Dylan Klebold was clinically depressed, eager to please, and clawing for an escape hatch. Together they formed a rare and volatile combination known as a criminal dyad, a coupling of an egomaniacal control freak and a doting, depressed side-kick. Like Bonnie and Clyde and the D.C. snipers, the duo had a push-me pull-me effect that spun both kids out of control and down a dangerous path that now seems well-worn and obvious as we trace it back.

Cullen's coverage of the tragedy is remarkably broad and deep for a book that doesn't even run 400 pages. The entire scope of the Columbine shootings are covered with almost no wasted space. The book is agonizingly well-researched and brilliantly end-noted. Cullen was one of the Colorado journalists covering the event as it was happening, and has been following the aftermath for the past ten years. He has become one of the most informed minds to wrestle with the shooting, and one of the few to draw the right conclusions.

The layout and pacing in Columbine is also ingenious. Instead of pretending that this was a tidy moment in history that can be covered from beginning to end, Cullen pays homage to the frustrating way that details coalesced into a final picture. Jumping back and forth from Eric and Dylan's lives before the event to the tragic consequences that reverberated after, Cullen gradually paints a full portrait of the two men in much the way that they revealed themselves to investigators. There is no pretension here that this is a subject with an easy beginning, middle, and end. Any other method of relating this story would not do the popular confusion justice, nor would it result in such a vivid understanding of what these two boys were like, and what damage they wreaked on their community.

Another impressive touch is the complete lack of images presented in the book. The center clump of photographs, a mainstay of good non-fiction, is conspicuously absent. You will not find a single picture of the killers nor their victims. It took some time for me to appreciate this classy move by the author and publishers. There is no sensationalism here. This is an outstanding work of journalism that is not only the authoritative account of what happened at Columbine high school, it is also a glimpse of criminal psychosis that I believe will be held up as a classic in years to come. This isn't just a good book, it is an important book. It is not just about the past, and not just about this one event, it is about a sad fact of the human condition, and a call for forward-looking vigilance, not backwards-glaring vengeance. [...]

The Trench Coat Mafia and a massive conspiracy involving many other participants led many people astray, including investigators. The idea that these were unpopular geeks who were picked on by bullies led to a national campaign against something that played no role in the tragedy. Eric and Dylan more often played the role of bully than they did bullied. And implications that music, movies, goth lifestyle, Hitler, or videogames inspired their actions are as false as Michael Moore's assertions that they bowled on the day of the shooting.

Columbine replaces these falsehoods with an account of two kids that simply hated the world and its occupants. Everyone was beneath them. These were not kids cast out by society; they were misfits by choice. They fled the robots/zombies/sheep with eagerness and disdain. They celebrated the fact that they did not belong. Nobody pushed them away or ridiculed them, in fact they were just as popular in their own clique as any other kid, and just as invisible to most kids as we all were to people outside of our social circle. The kids who were not respected were Eric and Dylan's peers. The duo were able to look down on them from such a height of hubris as to be able to dehumanize them. Making them something outside of their scope of empathy. Easy enough to dispatch. [...]

Possibly the most shocking myth stripped down in the book is that this was a school shooting by design. The event became the poster for gun restrictions, which may be a noble cause, but it misses the intentions that Eric and Dylan had that day. By all accounts, the attack was a dismal failure. The massive bombs that they rigged up did not go off as planned. They had a low body count estimate in the hundreds, but hoped for thousands. They wanted to start a worldwide revolution. And they hoped they could do this all without devastating their parents. In every possible way, these boys failed. They failed their society, their peers, their parents, and thank goodness, they failed themselves.

These failures continue to cast ripples today. Cullen devotes a good chuck of his book to the horrible aftermath of these events. An investigation that became disgustingly political included cover-ups and foot-dragging. There were copycats, pranks and bomb-threats. Survivors went through physical and emotional re-hab. Some people tried to profit from the shooting. The school had to be rebuilt, along with the student body and the surrounding community. Some relationships were bonded for eternity, and some shattered. Depression and post-traumatic-stress were prevalent and devastating. Lawsuits were filed. The entire town seemed to be cursed, with normal bad luck ascribed to the ghost of Columbine. Cullen captures all of this with stunning detail and respectfulness. There is no stone that he does not peek under, describe, and then return with loving care. That he pulled this balancing act off for the entire book, detailing an event with so many scars and controversy, is absolutely stunning.

The end result is a book that should be required reading for every teacher, guidance counselor, clinical psychologist and parent. Columbine unmasks universal and innate tendencies that a small portion of our population harbors. And what makes this minority dangerous is that they have no empathy for the rest of us, and a genius for hiding this flaw. The signs of their disease are usually there, but they are murky due to our faith in nurture conquering nature.

Columbine is not just an account of an American tragedy, it is a guide for preventing future ones. We must begin by accepting that much of who we are is the dumb luck of genetics, but that this does not exculpate our actions. Sure, we can dream up more pleasant realities for us to operate within, where free will plays a larger role, and loving someone enough will make everything all right, but fantasy is never a solution for improving our existence. It is just the comforting blanket we tragically suffocate ourselves with.


What You Never Knew About Columbine
I know more about the Columbine story than most of Cullen's audience: I was Cullen's editor at Salon 10 years ago, on that awful day when the cable networks told us teenagers were dying in Littleton, and he told me over the phone he'd head there immediately. Little did either of us know then that he'd still be at Columbine a decade later.

So I can't be dispassionate about this book. I will point to raves from Time and Newsweek before offering my own personal observation: I knew Cullen was a dogged reporter and a terrific writer, but even I was blown away by the pacing and story-telling he mastered in "Columbine," a disturbing, inspiring work of art. [...]

What you won't learn, except in the footnotes, is that it was Cullen who broke most of the crucial Columbine myth-debunking stories and expanded on others. He was an army of one against the dozens sent by large national dailies, the news magazines, and local and national television networks. But he had key advantages: He lived there, he's charming and ingratiating, he's got an instinct for bullshit, and he's got a heart bigger than most hearts I know. He suffered through the Columbine story with the locals after the national stars went away; he also had the distance from local politics that a national outlet provided him. Still, what got him the story was his passion and smarts and sensitivity — he knew how to wrangle information out of traumatized teens and families and investigators because he was traumatized, too; I'll never forget some of our conversations when he talked through his own despair at what he was seeing.

As journalists debate the role of citizen storytellers and others who have a stake in the news we report, Cullen offers an interesting window — he was absolutely a trained professional who nonetheless never hid his devastation at the loss of the young lives at Columbine, or his place in the grieving community. He shows what someone with remarkable skills but even more remarkable compassion and judgment can do to break a good story. It was my honor to be his editor — and to discuss this book with him. [...]
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Monkey's Paw
[blogto.com - Sep.08]

Monkey's Paw is unlike any other bookstore in Toronto. There's no Harry Potter or Suzanne Somers Eight Steps to Wellness here. Instead, the shelves are a treasure trove of the rare and the bizarre with titles like Indian Police Today, Why China Has No Inflation, Artificial Impregnation, Cocaine Changes and Understanding Japanese Bantings.

Located in the old Carte Blanche digs on Dundas, just west of Ossington, Monkey's Paw was opened in March 2006 and named after a cheesy early-20th century horror story by W.W. Jacobs. The moral, or message, of the story is Careful what you wish for.

Owner Stephen Fowler figured that at a shop like Monkey's Paw, you'd never find the book you were looking for; but you might well find the book you didn't know you were looking for. Get it? So, don't go here looking for anything. Just go, browse the shelves and be amazed at what you'll find.

Even when the store is closed it's worth a visit. Fowler regularly rotates some of the most random titles in stock in the front window. Definitely makes for an interesting conversation piece after stumbling out of nearby Communist Daughter at 1am.

He also updates the store's blog on a weekly basis with some of the new and strange titles in stock. Customizing Your Van circa 1983 anyone?

For more details on the store, keep reading for my short Q&A with owner Stephen Fowler.

What distinguishes Monkey's Paw from some of Toronto's other bookstores?
We stock primarily odd, obscure, overlooked, and forgotten books. Other stores usually attempt to carry established classics; we look for books which are specifically NOT classics.
We select our stock according to an aesthetic formula: the beautiful, the arcane, the macabre, the absurd. We try to make sure that every book fits one of these descriptions...and the ideal Monkey's Paw title fits all four.
We also take into account the books' artifact value. In other words, we look at old books as not just texts, or collections of images, but as cultural artifacts in their own right: snapshots of their cultural moment, printed on paper, and gathered in bindings.
We try hard to offer good service...no bored, condescending staff. We'd like to convert the uninitiated, rather than exclude them.

Who is your typical customer?
We get lots of graphic designers, artists, journalists, grad students, and info-damaged postmodernists. Most are younger than the shop's proprietor.

What sort of events do you have at the store?
We've had a site-specific poetry contest (the "Detournement Tournament," where participants were challenged to compose texts using only the titles of books in the shop); a site-specific art show; and a few parties. We've also had a garage sale (thousands of books, nothing over $2) for the last two summers.

Anything else you'd like to a share?
A friend of mine who works in academic publishing said of my shop, This isn't a bookshop, this is a gift shop that sells books. This was probably meant as a slight dig, but frankly I'm comfortable with the characterization. Very likely the same statement could apply to any solvent bookshop in the 21st century; and I for one am honored to help discover a new role for old media in people's lives. Besides, who wouldn't be delighted to receive as a wedding present a 1940s clothbound edition of Van de Velde's Ideal Marriage, Its Physiology and Technique?

(1961) Master class in sensationalism: "Here are the swindlers and the swells, the babes who scheme and the pimps who outsmart them -- all conning their way in the greatest shell game on earth."

(1988) Considering a career change? This study is so richly detailed, it could serve as a practitioner's guide to the hustling life. [mo-paw.blogspot.com]
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5/17/2009

I ♥ Geeks






Name: ZACHARY QUINTO
Age: 31
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