Science Lost

Last night I received an email from a fellow member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Toronto Centre, asking me if I knew anything about the possible closure of Efston Science, the self-proclaimed “science and astronomy superstore” located on Dufferin Street in Toronto. I didn’t believe it could be so. I thought he had to be mistaken.

But he was right. And when I was told, I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach.

This store has been my weekend getaway for years. It is filled with telescopes, binoculars, eyepieces, books, microscopes, magnets, skeletons, beakers and anything else geeky and science-based that you can think of. I brought my daughter there where she had fun in their “dark” room where you could see glowing stars, cool things that looked like they came right off the Borg ship from Star Trek: The Next Generation and lava lamps. There were awesome science t-shirts, placemats, space food, experiment books, sound cannons and games. It was a science geek’s paradise.

And now it’s closing.

Efston was started by Evan and Terri Efston in 1970 in a small store on Avenue Road. Initially, they specialized in lasers and holography, but by 1975 had branched out into telescopes, microscopes and other observing optics. In 1981, they built their current location, a 12,000 square-foot “passive solar-heated building” at 3350 Dufferin Street. It was there that the giant telescope that adorned their roof became a Toronto landmark.

Goodbye, giant rooftop telescope

To me, Efston was — and still is until it closes its doors — my paradise. I didn’t own my first telescope until I was an adult, but the people at Efston were incredibly helpful when I sought to upgrade. Were they always the cheapest? No. But their customer service was great. What impressed me the most when I first set foot in there as a telescope owner, was that they never, EVER pushed me to buy something. They told me what I needed and what I could live without, which, as someone who doesn’t have a lot of money, meant a lot. Over the years I formed lasting friendships. These people watched my daughter toddle along and grow into the young lady she is now. To me, my weekend visits to Efston were like weekend visits to family. It sounds corny, but it was. I was deeply saddened today as I drove by and noticed the telescope missing from its roof. A piece of Toronto is missing. [NOTE: As of July 9th, it has been returned to its perch.]

What bothers me SO much about the loss of this store is that it is a loss for the community. I can recount many visits where I heard, “My son wants a telescope, but I’m not sure where to start.” The staff would chime in about not getting something too big but not getting something too cheap, either. This way it was good for your pocket and good for fostering a love for the hobby. They were always fair and honest and ready to give you advice. And, as a woman in a man’s hobby, I was never made to feel inferior or unwelcome.

Where are kids going to go to whet their appetite for more science? Where can someone get answers when they think they want to pursue the hobby of astronomy? Where can a mother or father go to better inform themselves about what they should be purchasing for their son or daughter’s hobby? Where can you go to “kick the tires” of a telescope you’re thinking of purchasing? You can’t do that online.

Toronto needs a science superstore. We need a place where the seed of astronomy and science can be nurtured. Where kids can get excited about science; where they can reach out and touch a telescope and dream about seeing the deepest parts of the cosmos.

The loss of Efston is a loss for science.

It will be a sad, sad day when Efston closes its doors for good.

 

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