Today’s chapter of the Word Weaver Podcast is my in-depth interview with Ben McNally, the legendary bookseller behind "Toronto’s Most Beautiful Bookstore” and his namesake, Ben McNally Books. The shop first opened in 2007 at 366 Bay Street in Toronto’s financial district but Ben has worked in the book business for over 40 years.
We chatted over coffee inside his stunning shop, under the 14-foot ceilings, with the mahogany bookshelves as our backdrop. I was honoured that Ben would take the time to sit down and speak with me as he is somewhat akin to what a celebrity chef in the restaurant industry would be to the Canadian literary scene.
Independent bookstores have long been thought of as a dying breed, particularly with the age of Amazon. Even big box superstores like Chapters Indigo are dedicating more of their retail space to housewares, a higher profit driver for them than books. Despite the recent revival of indie bookshops (much like the renaissance of vinyl records and polaroid cameras), many independent bookstores have been forced to shut their doors over the years as book sales are unable to cover their overhead. In a fraught industry, Ben McNally Books has managed to stay competitive, which he credits to building trusting, loyal and long-lasting relationships with his customers — a face-to-face interaction he fears is being lost in our overstimulated technology era.
“On the internet you can find what you’re looking for; in our store you can find what you are not looking for.”
- Ben McNally
In today’s podcast chapter we discuss everything from how he went from parking cars at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) to being at the forefront of the literary industry. He also gives us a behind-the-scenes look from the booksellers perspective of the publishing industry and his stance on why books are sexy again.
Don’t miss the rapid fire at the end where he tells us his favourite author, book of ALL time, favourite place to read and why he loves Harry Potter!
I don’t know if it was being in a bookstore on a quiet, snowy morning or listening to Ben talk about books, but I felt such a sense of calm during the interview. It was a magical conversation with a magical man! I hope you enjoy.
ps. If you’re located in Toronto, Ben hosts a monthly Books and Brunch in the Vanity Fair Ballroom at the King Edward Hotel with up to four authors and various In Her Voice events at the bookstore that support emerging female writers and poets.
Ben McNally Books
Word Weaver Links
Word Weaver Podcast Soundtrack
Late July by Shakey Graves
Way With Words by Bahamas