Saying Goodbye to Patti Kirk and Parentbooks (by Dinny Biggs)

A recent article in Now Magazine lamented the city’s loss from the closing of Parentbooks on Harbord Street. Local resident Dinny Biggs has sent us this story about the loss to the neighbourhood and to her personally. There are deep roots here!

For a long time, Patti Kirk has sold specialty books in different locations along Harbord Street. Now she has decided to close Parentbooks and retire from the bookselling business.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Patti and Marie Prins co-managed the Women’s Bookstore at 85 Harbord, and then at 73 Harbord after a devastating fire in the adjoining Morgentaler Clinic. By 1985 (Patti now with toddler twins), they recognized a niche for books specifically about parenting.

In 1986, Larry Smith, a long-time resident of Harbord Village, supported their hopes when he purchased the picturesque house at 201 Harbord from the Malacarne family of knife-sharpeners, and rented it to them for the new store they called Parentbooks. Patti’s husband Bill Elleker joined the store’s team soon after. In 2013 the store moved to the handsome brick building at 121 Harbord, renting the first floor (formerly Drum Travel), with Larry’s business occupying the upstairs.

Parentbooks PumpkinFest 2017121 Harbord
Parentbooks’ tables for PumpkinFest 2017

This last location proved the most satisfying, with more foot traffic and increased online sales. Parentbooks’ range of resources had expanded to include books for grandparents, midwives, and ECE teachers, and further resources supporting grief counseling, LGBTQ families and kids on the Autism spectrum. Patti also intentionally sought books by underrepresented writers, and resources with positive illustrations of kids from all backgrounds and family structures. The friendly and knowledgeable staff at Parentbooks could always be counted on to discuss suitable purchases.

In a phone interview on January 24, 2021, Patti recalled the tremendous support from Harbord Village residents as regular customers who helped spread the news about Parentbooks’ resources. In particular, she shared her appreciation for the recent surge in online and front-door pickup traffic that supported the store during pandemic restrictions. “It is a bittersweet decision,” she said, “to close Parentbooks after almost 35 years in business, but it is the right one for us at this time.”

Patti Kirk is a local hero in our community, providing an independent bookstore with a wide range of high-quality, inclusive resource books for all who interact with children. She is also a hero in her generosity to the neighbourhood. Parentbooks donated gift coupons for HVRA’s silent auctions, offered free books in a box by the front door, welcomed table displays during the annual Pumpkinfest, and posted plaques from the HVRA Oral History Project.

Speaking personally, I remember the cozy armchair by the front door as just the right size for a young reader exploring books. I remember the enticing book displays on the windowsills facing Harbord when I walked by.  And I have many happy memories of exploring the bookshelves, talking with informed staff and always being impressed by the different resources available that supported my overlapping roles with children as a teacher, parent, aunt, mentor and now, a grandparent.

I share the emotional response of many others at the news of Parentbooks’ closing. I remember going to the store feeling vulnerable with hard-to-ask questions, but always leaving feeling listened to and supported with helpful reading materials. It wasn’t just a store, and Patti was more than a bookstore owner. I think it was the store experience created by the owners and long-term staffers such as Leslie Chandler and Maureen Phillips when you walked in the door of Parentbooks. “It’s so hard when they start to cry,” commented Leslie after a loyal customer said thank-you and good-bye on a recent phone call.

Patti Kirk will be missed, as will the vision and dedication behind the important and unique collections that were available at the local Harbord Street store called Parentbooks.

Dinny Biggs, February, 2021
(all photos by Leslie Chandler)

(NOTE: Caversham Books at 98 Harbord confirm that they have taken over Parentbooks’ stock on Autism.)