Carl and Jack Cole

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Carl Cole
Carl Collofsky

Detroit, Michigan, United States
Spouse(s)Pearl Collofsky
RelativesJack Cole (brother)
Jack Cole
Isadore Collofsky

May 4, 1920
Detroit, Michigan, United States
DiedJanuary 22, 1997(1997-01-22) (aged 76)
Spouse(s)Esther Collofsky
RelativesCarl Cole (brother)

Carl and Jack Cole, born Carl Collofsky and Isadore Collofsky, were American brothers who created the successful bookstore chain Coles as well as the world-famous publication Coles Notes. Carl (d.1994) and Jack (May 4, 1920 – January 22, 1997) made 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.

Jack attended Harbord Collegiate, but dropped out of high school after completing grade 10 in order to help provide for his family. Carl attended Oakwood Collegiate in Toronto.

In 1935, at age 15, Jack and his brother Carl opened The Book Exchange, their first bookstore. It was located at Bloor and Spadina and specialized in second-hand books for the University of Toronto.

World War II[edit]

Jack joined the Royal Canadian Air Force upon Canada's entry into War. Due to his limited formal education, Jack started as a private, but within six months was promoted to a captain and stationed in England. At the same time, brother Carl ran the bookstore, which was thriving in Canada.

Coles Notes[edit]

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

There have been over 80,000,000 copies of Coles Notes sold in over 70 countries. They are currently owned by Indigo Books in Canada.

1950s and 1960s[edit]

In 1958, Jack and Carl sold the American rights to Coles Notes to Cliff Hillegas, who published the books under the Cliff's Notes moniker.

By 1960, Coles Notes sales peaked when baby boomers were beginning to attend high school. At their peak, there were over 120 titles, mostly dealing with English novels, but they also had numerous other subjects, including languages, mathematics, and physics.


On June 7, 1972, the brothers took Coles Bookstore public, with Jack and Carl still retaining control over the business. At the time, Coles Bookstore had over 200 stores operating across Canada.

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

In 1978, Jack and Carl sold their interest in Coles Bookstore to Southam Press for a reported C$34 million. Jack remained as president of the company until the early 1980s.

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 Cole family.

On June 20, 2012, Stuart Smith of CBRE Commercial Real Estate Services announced the lease on the store's building, which was set to expire at the end of 2013, would not be renewed by Indigo Books and Music.[7] In March 2014 the World's Biggest Bookstore officially closed.[8]

Family life[edit]

Jack Cole and his wife Esther had four children, David, Norma, Jeff and Linda. Carl and his wife Pearl had two 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". The 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". The Wall Street Journal (Eastern ed.). July 22, 1987. p. 1. 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". The 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. Archived from the original on November 23, 2014. Retrieved November 23, 2014.

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