Small business spotlight: Squibb’s Stationers

From the minute you walk in the door of Squibb’s Stationers, the difference between the shop and big-store chains is obvious.

The locally-owned, independent shop offers an atmosphere that corporate businesses can’t replicate. Tucked away in Weston Village, a neighbourhood in northwest Toronto, the store seems like something out of a fairytale. With its creaky floors, quirky themed windows and shelves full of products ranging from textbooks, organic honey and fountain pens, you would almost think you were transported to Diagon Alley.

Squibb’s was opened in 1927 by Arthur and Carey Squibb and is Toronto’s oldest bookstore and stationers. They recently celebrated their 96th anniversary and continue to offer the same personalized service since they first opened their doors.

Carey Squibb, one of the founders of Squibb’s, stands outside the storefront.

When asked how they’ve managed to compete with big chain companies, Suri Weinberg-Linsky, who owns the business alongside her husband, Mike Linsky, explained, “We don’t compete with them; they compete with us.”

Weinberg-Linsky and her husband consistently go the extra mile to ensure their customers get the products they need in the best and most efficient way possible.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, they frequently made trips around the GTA to personally deliver products to customers. Additionally, when the new school semester started a month into lockdown, Weinberg-Linsky and her husband drove over an hour to ensure students got their textbooks in time.

Weinberg-Linsky said she believes that the personalized service they provide customers is how they maintain the Squibb value. Another way is being active members of the community.

With her husband, Weinberg-Linsky took over the store in 2001 from her parents, who bought it in 1980. While there were two owners between 1972, when the Squibb family sold the business, and 1980, they didn’t embed themselves with the community. The original owners, Weinberg-Linsky, her husband and her parents all shared the common objective of ensuring Squibb’s maintains its connection with the Weston Village community.

Weinberg-Linsky currently sits on several Weston Village boards, councils and volunteer organizations that support the local community through opportunities, initiatives and events. Squibb’s works with community members to support enhancement projects, like the “Welcome to Weston” signs that greet visitors on Lawrence Avenue West and Weston Road.

She also lives in the area, which she believes motivates her to champion for the community.

“I’m a neighbour. I’m a business owner. I’m a volunteer,” she explained. “It’s the personal service [that we provide]. Being part of the community, and working within the community, and being able to be interconnected. It’s all the pieces of a small village.”

Squibb’s also frequently stocks and promotes books written by community members or that have a Weston connection. They’ve hosted various events to celebrate these books and their authors, including a double reading on the 50th anniversary of Hurricane Hazel, an intense hurricane that flooded Weston and killed 35 residents in 1954.

Another way Weinberg-Linsky and her husband honour Squibb’s legacy is by remaining in contact with the founder’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Some family members even came down to celebrate the store’s 95th anniversary last May and gifted Weinberg-Linsky a teacup that belonged to Carey Squibb. They also sell organic honey produced by Andrew and Gabriel Bennet, two of Arthur and Carey’s great-grandchildren, demonstrating their continued support for the family who started the business 96 years ago.

Despite all their success and essential presence in Weston Village, Weinberg-Linsky admitted that redevelopment plans threaten Squibb’s survival. After her landlords sold the building they rented their retail space from, a Dollarama was put in a few doors down and quickly cut into their sales. There are also plans to eventually tear down all the stores on the block and convert the space into condos.

While these changes have rocked their business, Weinberg-Linsky and her husband are not ready to pack it in yet.

“I’m not a quitter,” she explained. “There’s many days where I just want to pack it up and just say, ‘Forget everything.’ And then there are other days where I’m really energized.”

Weinberg-Linsky also mentioned that Squibb’s has already defied survival expectations for independent bookstores in a market dominated by Amazon and Indigo, giving them hope that they can remain in business.

“We shouldn’t exist,” she said. “We should’ve died like 30 years ago. We just keep pushing along and pushing along.”

Squibb’s original storefront before they moved to their current location a few doors down in 1935.
Squibb’s current storefront.

While there is an eventual closing date for the store, Weinberg-Linsky is proud of her and her husband’s work to continue Squibb’s legacy. From providing personalized service, curating a diverse product line and being active community members, Squibb’s remains the same quirky, friendly store it was when it first opened in 1927.

Weinberg-Linsky also reminds herself to acknowledge their successes, even if sales have slowed down.

“Successful means you have longevity,” she explained.

Whatever the future brings, Weinberg-Linsky and her husband can be proud of all their hard work. They’ve powered on to ensure that Squibb’s is still Toronto’s oldest bookstore and stationers, proving that personalized customer service and community connections never go out of style.

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