As a fellow geek, you might do the same thing. Whenever I travel and there’s enough time, I like to look up and check out one or more comic shops in the city I’m visiting or re-visit one I’ve enjoyed in the past. Not really to buy comics (cheat on your file at your home shop?-heresy!), but more to see what the locals have done with their space and gauge the vibe of that city’s scene. Like with anything else, there’s a few duds; but generally it’s worth the time, whether you set foot in something iconic (i.e. Midtown Comics in Times Square) or find your way to a cool indie (i.e. Floating World Comics in Portland).

Which takes us to today’s dilemma. In Toronto, it looks like there’s another comic shop renaissance in progress. A lot of you young ‘uns weren’t collecting yet but it’s the early 90’s all over again. People went nuts for sports cards and comics (blowing up then collapsing that industry) and anyone who had money to rent a space, from trust-fund wannabes to business-minded fans to store employees branching out on their own, were opening their own shop alongside already established ones. So no surprise that within a few years, especially in smaller towns with a limited customer base, the craze corrected itself and most of these shops were gone and boarded up.

The Snail is stylish but space is tight.

So back to T.O. today. I should clarify right off the top that I’m only listing shops I know of in the downtown core (a couple more are probably opening as I write this!); no omissions are intentional and this column isn’t meant as an exclusive ad for those included.

There’s still the Silver Snail as the first name everyone drops with its’ long history and international cred; that survived a move from its’ original, revered Queen St. location to bustling Yonge-Dundas square. I understand it as a business decision (and appreciate that their buying power allows them to carry a lot of items from Diamond Previews that smaller shops can’t), but find the smaller space a little cramped and hard to abide.

The Hairy Tarantula chugs along at its’ second-floor Yonge St. site, quietly competing with the Snail as always, maybe offering a little more for r.p.g.’ers and card gamers.

One Million Comix, with the benefit of more space (do I have to explain what that means on Wednesdays?) is the champ for in-stock comics-related apparel. They’re also roomy enough to share space with Next Move Games, if you’d like to take care of two fixes in the same stop.

The Comic Pile and Dr. Comics are close by….maybe too close.

Swinging out to Kensington Market, there’s Dr. Comics, which has found the niche of selling its’ stock of forgotten comics for dirt cheap as quick and disposable entertainment, rather than claim it’s gold like a lot of deluded collectors.

Literally a block away is the Comic Pile – a nice-looking shop but I’ve gotta question the ambition of opening up so close to another store. Granted, I don’t know the full story and maybe plans for this shop were already underway a while back.

In Little Italy, there’s the Comic Book Lounge & Gallery, picking up the mantle for that hood when the venerable Dragon Lady called it a day. Another nice, spacious shop that quietly does its’ own thing – maybe too quietly. Apparently it’s been running the last couple of years and I only discovered it a few weeks ago.

Back up to the Annex, there’s the Beguiling, the “thinking” fan’s haunt with a good selection of ‘zines (yep, people still make these), books and resource material on hand. I don’t know what their future holds as it was recently confirmed their block has been sold and (surprise!) slated for condo redevelopment.

Around the corner is Little Island Comics, a true gem of a niche store specializing in comics and books for young children. A lot of fans now with their own kids come here as a gateway to introduce them to the medium.

The Labyrinth is one of the niche options in the Annex.

Labyrinth Books is in the mix, staking its’ focus on manga and anime as its’ claim to fame.

Finally, there’s BMV, who while also carrying comics, has assembled a retail-worthy selection of new and recent trades & hardcovers at wholesale prices. I don’t know how they do it but when the dollar talks, should I really care?

So there you have it. All of these shops (sorry Paradise Comics, Red Nails, et. al.) are within a 20-minute bike ride of each other. So besides a casual visit if you’re in their area, how do you decide who gets your regular business? Does blind loyalty cut it in this day and age? Bang for your buck is nice, but what extra elements do you look for to enhance your experience? Store layout with that crucial elbow room? Are you exclusively a comics buyer or do you enjoy some peripheral shopping, maybe dropping in for a game? Are you shopping for yourself and/or for others?

How do you like your staff? I like that fine-line of feeling like a welcome and valued customer with a little small and shop talk (i.e. not feeling obligated to have a one-hour conversation, making your weekly pick-up a chore). If anyone gives you the “too cool” vibe where they make it seem a hassle or a big favour to serve you, that should be your first indication to move on. That should go for all your shopping, not just comics. I won’t name names today, that’s a rant for another time – you know who you are and you’ve been warned. In a bigger ‘berg, there’s always “another guy” to go to with your cash. Nothing avenges smug surliness better than the satisfaction of seeing somebody go down.

Which takes us full circle. Check ‘em all out with an open mind and let us know what we may have missed with your own thoughts & opinions. Then, when we revisit this a few years from now, we’ll see who’s the last shop standing.

If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!

The Beguiling – A mainstay in Toronto…but for how long?

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