Carl and Jack Cole

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Carl and Jack Cole were two brothers who created the successful bookstore chain Coles bookstore as well as the world famous publication of Coles Notes. Jack (May 4, 1920 – January 22, 1997) and Carl (d.1994) were born Isadore and Carl Collofsky. Carl and Jack were very successful, making Coles the largest bookstore chain in Canada in the mid to late 20th century.[1]

Early life[edit]

Jack and Carl were born in Detroit, but the family moved to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, when Jack was quite young. They had two sisters. Due to family circumstances, Jack and Carl had a very tough childhood.

Jack attended Harbord Collegiate; however he dropped out of High School after completing grade 10 in order to help provide for his family. Carl attended Oakwood Collegiate in Toronto.

At the age of 15, Jack and his Brother Carl opened their first bookstore in 1935 under the name The Book Exchange.

The bookstore was located at Bloor and Spadina and specialized in second hand books for the University of Toronto.

World War II[edit]

Jack Cole immediately joined the Royal Canadian Air Force when the Canadian Army joined the War. Due to his limited formal education, Jack Cole started as a Private however within 6 months he had been promoted to a Captain and stationed in England. At the same time, Carl ran the bookstore which was thriving in Canada.

Coles Notes[edit]

Jack and Carl first published Coles Notes in 1948. The first Coles Note published was for the French novel Colomba by Prosper Mérimée.[2][3]

Today there have been over 80,000,000 copies of Coles Notes sold worldwide. Coles Notes can be found in over 70 countries worldwide. Coles Notes is currently owned by Indigo Books in Canada.


In 1958, Jack and Carl sold the American Rights to Coles Notes to Cliff Hillegas who published the books under Cliff Notes.

By 1960, Coles Notes sales peaked when baby boomers were beginning to attend high school. They had over 120 titles mostly dealing with English novels however they had numerous other subjects including math, languages, physics etc.


On June 7, 1972, Jack and Carl Cole took Coles Bookstore public, however he and Carl still maintained control over the business. At this point, Coles Bookstore had over 200 stores operating across Canada.

Beginning in 1973, Jack and Carl eventually opened over 50 stores in the United States,[4] but this venture was not very successful, and Southam Inc. later sold the remaining 52 stores to Waldenbooks in 1987.[5][6]

In 1978, Jack and Carl sold their interest in Coles Bookstore to Southam Press for a reported $34,000,000. Jack remained as President of the company until the early 80s.

World's Biggest Bookstore[edit]

In 1980, Jack opened the World's Biggest Bookstore at the site of a former bowling alley. At the time, it was the largest bookstore in the world at 67,000 square feet (6,200 m2). It was located in downtown Toronto on Edward Street. Although the business is owned by Indigo Books and Music, the building is owned by the family of Jack Cole.

On June 20, 2012, Stuart Smith of CBRE Commercial Real Estate Services announced 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.[7] The World's Biggest Bookstore later closed in March 2014.[8]

Family life[edit]

Jack and Carl Cole always put a lot of emphasis on their family. Jack and his wife Esther had 4 children, David, Norma, Jeff and Linda while Carl and his wife Pearl had 2 children, Ted and Bruce.


  1. ^ Kearney, Mark & Ray, Randy (2002). I Know that Name!: The People Behind Canada's Best-known Brand Names from Elizabeth Arden to Walter Zeller. Dundurn. pp. 62–65. ISBN 9781550024074. 
  2. ^ Renzetti, Elizabeth (March 10, 1998). "Smart enough to keep them Coles Notes first editio_n nets pair $2,500 each". Globe and Mail. p. D.1. Sam Darichuk and Marion Stephenson split a $5,000 prize for producing the 1948 Coles Notes translation of Prosper Mérimée's Colomba, a long-forgotten 1904 adventure story set in Corsica.  Link via ProQuest.
  3. ^ "50 years of Coles Notes". Vancouver Sun. January 31, 1998. p. D9. Chapters bookstore will pay $5,000 for an intact copy of the first Coles Notes ever published. Chapters, which owns the rights to Coles Notes, wants to find the first edition of the notes -- a study guide for Columba, a translated French novel by Prosper Merimee, which was on Ontario's Grade 13 curriculum in 1948.  Link via ProQuest.
  4. ^ Lazarus, George (September 26, 1973). "Canada bookseller eyes Chicago market". Chicago Tribune. p. c10. Coles, which has 67 stores in Canada, began its U.S. invasion this week, opening a unit in a Buffalo shopping center.  Link via ProQuest.
  5. ^ "Business Brief: Southam Inc.". Wall Street Journal (Eastern ed.). July 22, 1987. p. 1. (Subscription required (help)). Southam Inc., Toronto, said its Coles Book Stores Ltd. unit agreed to sell its 52 U.S. book stores and related assets to Waldenbooks Inc., a large Stamford, Conn.-based book retailer.  Alternate Link via ProQuest.
  6. ^ "Coles Book Stores will sell U.S. assets to Waldenbooks Inc.". Globe and Mail. July 22, 1987. p. B.5. Coles Book Stores Ltd. , a unit of Southam Inc. of Toronto, says it has agreed in principle to sell its U.S. store assets to Waldenbooks Inc. of Stamford, Conn. Terms were not disclosed. The sale involves Coles' 52 stores in the United States and associated assets. Coles will continue to operate its 185 stores in Canada.  Link via ProQuest.
  7. ^ Archer, Bert (June 20, 2012). "World's Biggest Bookstore goes up for rent". Yonge Street. Retrieved June 20, 2012. 
  8. ^ Medley, Mark (March 14, 2014). "Final frame: An oral history of the World's Biggest Bookstore". National Post. Retrieved November 23, 2014. 

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