Today’s Glad Day Bookshop at 499 Church Street is not only a meeting of people but a meeting of places. It is a bookshop, coffee shop, bar, event space and cool-person hangout all at once. Its incarnations since 1970 have been as diverse and varied as the needs of its community, though like its community, it had humble beginnings.
Jearld Moldenhauer began selling gay literature “out of a knapsack [he] carried from one gay meeting to another” in 1970 in Toronto. He named the operation ‘Glad Day’ after a painting by William Blake. The bookstore operated out of Moldenhauer’s apartment in the Annex, and then moved to a shed in the backyard of 4 Kensington Street, which it shared with The Body Politic. Later in the 1970s, the store was located on the second floor of a building just north of the Toronto Reference Library. It then moved to Yonge Street in 1981, a hole-in-the-wall proclaiming its message with a cheerful rainbow flag and a neon sign that stuck out into the cramped street.
In 1991 Moldenhauer sold the store to John Scythes, a prominent AIDS researcher, who managed it until late 2011 when Scythes announced he was putting it up for sale due to declining revenues. The store was ultimately purchased by a collective of twenty-two community members (management fell to Scott Dagostino, now a columnist at Daily Xtra) and is now the oldest surviving LGBT bookstore in North America, existing in its new multifaceted incarnation on Church Street.
The bookstore (slash coffee shop slash dance hall) has faced innumerable gains and setbacks over the past almost fifty years. It is reflective of a community that has also evolved significantly over the decades, but whose spirit has always remained the same. Like the man in Blake’s painting, who basks in an ethereal and possibly angelic light, it is a community always in search of its glad day.