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Coles is a Canadian bookstore chain owned by Indigo Books and Music. Coles currently serves as Indigo's brand for small-scale bookstores in locations such as shopping malls. Some locations are operated as SmithBooks, and the company has recently begun to open selected small-format locations as "IndigoSpirit".[1]



In the 1930s, two brothers, Carl Cole and Jack Cole, opened their first bookstore near the University of Toronto.[2]

At the age of 11, the Coles were living in foster homes in Detroit and eventually Toronto. With the little amount of money they had, they were able to open their first store (paying rent daily as they could not afford the monthly rent payments). With no retail experience, the Cole brothers turned their store into what was once Canada's largest bookstore chain.

Jack and Carl Cole are also responsible for inventing Coles Notes.[3] Coles Notes began when students at a local high school were having trouble translating a French paper. Jack and Carl hired someone to translate the book and sold over 1,000 copies. Coles Notes have sold over 80,000,000 copies worldwide, and served as the foundation for the similar Cliffs Notes which are published in the U.S.

In addition to the flagship brand, known for many years as "Coles - the Book People!", the company operated the self-proclaimed World's Biggest Bookstore in downtown Toronto, as well as two other bookstore banners, Active Minds and The Book Company.[4]

In 1976, Jack and Carl sold Coles to Southam Inc. In April 1995, Southam resold the company to Pathfinder Capital, which one year earlier had acquired Coles' main rival, SmithBooks. The latter chain consisted of the former Canadian operations of British bookstore chain W H Smith, which had first been sold to Canadian owners in 1989.[2][4]

The merged company, Chapters Inc., opened Canada's first two book superstores under the "Chapters" name brand in November 1995. The smaller-format bookstores retained their existing names, but over time many of these locations have been converted to the Coles banner. A handful of SmithBooks stores continue to operate as of late 2008, but even in these cases staff uniforms and shopping bags bear the "Coles" name.

Indigo purchased Chapters, and in turn Coles, in 2001.


  • Canadian singer Neil Young worked for two weeks, around the year 1964, at a Toronto branch before being fired due to being irresponsible.[5]


  1. ^ First Canadian Place store directory
  2. ^ a b Indigo History
  3. ^ I Know That Name! by Mark Kearney and Randy Ray
  4. ^ a b Southam Inc. sells Coles to SmithBooks, Southam press release, April 11, 1995
  5. ^ Young, Neil. "Bookstore Rap." Sugar Mountain - Live At Canterbury House 1968. Reprise, 2008. CD.

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