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At the time of its opening in 1980, in a converted bowling alley, it went unchallenged in its claim as the biggest bookstore in the world. Although it retains the name today, the Guinness Book of World Records currently lists a Barnes and Noble outlet in New York City as the world's largest bookstore based on floor space, although Powell's Books of Portland, Oregon is usually considered the largest based on shelf-space. Nevertheless, World's Biggest Bookstore still claims the title on the basis that it depends on how "biggest" is defined: while Barnes and Noble has more floor space, World's Biggest Bookstore carries more titles.
The World's Biggest Bookstore was the first of the book "superstores", and was purchased from Coles by Chapters Inc, which itself was formed from the merger of the Coles bookstore chain and SmithBooks. Although it retains its unique name, its stock, distribution and advertising are closely integrated with the Chapters and Indigo chains. The building itself is still owned by the Cole family and is leased by Indigo.
It is noted for its bright lights and over 20 kilometres of bookshelves.
On June 20, 2012, it was reported that the lease on the store's building, set to expire at the end of 2013, would not be renewed by Indigo Books and Music. The World's Biggest Bookstore would therefore close. An Indigo spokesperson subsequently clarified that report stating: “Indigo is continuing to discuss the World’s Biggest Bookstore lease with the landlords at this time. We have expressed our intention to not renew the lease as currently proposed, [but] no final agreement has been made between Indigo and the landlord.”
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In the late 1990s, with customers' book shopping habits radically changing after the launch of Chapters and Indigo, the store chose to play up its "no frills" image with an advertising campaign that included the following slogans:
These self-deprecating slogans are in the style of Toronto's landmark bargain store, Honest Ed's.