The Penguin Random House Canada corporate office is on Front Street in Toronto, part of a classic business high-rise tower, complete with a massive foyer and banks of elevators specifying which decade of floors you are destined towards. Tucked inside the lobby is a little alcove of reader heaven, and indeed it does have a white glow—all 158 square-feet of it. It is stocked with books that will whet almost any appetite, but this Penguin Shop is a store like no other.
Robert Wheaton is chief operating officer for Penguin Random House Canada, and he is clearly pleased with the results. “We were astounded, actually, at the rapid and positive response,” he says. “It was supposed to be a tiny outpost of great books and some merchandise, but it has performed extraordinarily well.” The small space features a wall of large book spines that slide out to reveal shelves covered with novels; the racks boast easily peel-away signage, a kind of “skin” that can be replaced with a new concept at any time. “We can have a new look entirely within two hours,” says Wheaton. On the shelves themselves are, among other delights, three lines of Penguin softcover books: the Pocket Penguin series, the Books are Beautiful series, and the Penguin Classics Graphic Deluxe Editions. The latter of these features covers, flaps, and spines illustrated by renowned artists, illustrators, and graphic novelists, each with introductions and notes by scholars and contemporary authors. It all creates a lovely impression, and makes you want to pick the books up and look more closely. “It really is about engaging people with books on levels they may not have experienced before—bringing a more creative, aesthetically-pleasing design aspect to these respected titles,” says Wheaton. Such icons as Moby Dick seem to have new life breathed into them, and Wheaton says customer response has been emphatically positive.
Another great feature is Penguin Picks, which highlights five titles suggested by such notables as Joseph Boyden, the first in the Author Series. The titles are displayed behind a shelf card that acts as a book mark, which has comments about the choices, by, in this case, Boyden himself. Penguin Random House staff, other authors, even book publishers, are included. Robert McCulloch, for example, who heads up the Appetite division of the company, had all five of his chosen food and drink books sell out rapidly.
It is virtually impossible to peruse this tiny store and come away without a purchase. A limited edition of Hermann Melville; a T-shirt emblazoned with “Read the North”, promoting yet another reader-intensive campaign, this one to inspire more Canadians to read Canadian authors; an adult Wonder Woman colouring book—all here. When the new books by Wayne Gretzky and Mike Meyers arrive, you may well have to line up. Bring a book, to fill the time.
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