The End of an Era: Toronto’s Dragon Lady Comics to Close in Early 2012
Igor Bonifacic, for BlogTO
Laura Godfrey, for the Torontoist
David Graham, for The Toronto Star
Bryan Munn, for Sequential Spiltink
Sue Carter Flinn, for Quill and Quire
Rich Johnston, for Bleeding Cool
UPDATE: Official closing date is February 1st (although manager Joe Kilmartin reports that the pull file customers should be able to get the product they ordered until Sunday, February 5th and they’ll be informed about how and where they can pick the items up directly for later that month.
Rising rent and renovations (i.e. public works and street repairs).
That’s what hurt Dragon Lady in the long run, and it’s a problem facing many independent businesses in Toronto.
Renovations: for many years College Street was ripped up while repairs were made to to the streetcar line — that meant fewer cars driving by, no parking for them, and very little street traffic. Many businesses along the College Street West stretch were impacted negatively, including Dragon Lady.
Rent: recent changes in legislation have increased property taxes in the downtown core and those dramatic increases have resulted in building owners introducing unreasonable rent hikes. Dragon Lady’s rent was raised a whopping 25% last July, and the increase ate dramatically into their profit margin, ultimately it was this that was the deciding factor for owner John Biernat.
Rent increases only affected a few of the major GTA comic retailer storefronts. Stores like Silver Snail and Paradise Comics have benefited from also owning the buildings they operate out of, so their rents are not an issue (just the property tax hikes), although when Silver Snail moves to a new location this spring it will probably be renting space (unless they get financing to buy a building up front), but any arrangement they negotiate will take into account the rent and property tax increases.
The Beguiling is located in Mirvisch Village, and some of the rent is subsidized.
The only downtown Toronto store I can think of in a similar situation as Dragon Lady is One Million Comics, but they have a strong and diversified business (not only new comics, back issues and books, but also Anime/Manga and a large assortment of collectible statues and toys), and are also located on the subway line and right on Yonge Street. They have a regular, uninterrupted flow of automobile and foot traffic. One Million has not been mentioned by the various reports on the scene that have been popping up in the wake of the story we broke here at the JSA blog, but they are a successful comics retailer with a rental store front.
It’s really unfortunate, as College Street West is really quite a strong hub for Toronto’s creative community. The Royal Academy of Illustration and Design studio (which includes Andy Belanger, Francis Manapul, Ramon Perez, Scott Hepburn, Willow Dawson, Marcus To, Ian Herring and joining in 2012 – Ken Lashley), as well as the Toronto Cartoonists Workshop (who feature Ty Templeton, Leonard Kirk, Eric Kim, Dave Ross, Dave Lapp and other creators as teachers) are both located within spitting distance of the Dragon Lady Comics location.
Today, there’s a Toronto Star article (link above) about the Dragon Lady (and Book Mart) closings with some quotes from me in it, but for the sake of clarity, here’s the full statement I gave reporter David Graham:
Comic book shops, like independent book and music stores, are outlets for members of our community to congregate and wax poetic, but they are also businesses that require our frequent support and a regular turnover of merchandise. Dragon Lady’s closing definitely affects most of us in the Toronto comics community because the store and the people that work there have had an impact on collectors, readers, creators and even other retailers for over 30 years.
I fondly remember going to the Queen Street location a lot when I was a teenager collecting back issues in the 1980’s, and it was just a few weeks ago that I was there chatting about industry changes with manager Joe Kilmartin, but Dragon Lady is representative of the type of retailer that has been most affected by the changes in comics reading and purchasing habits. Stores don’t sell back issues like they once did, and at Dragon Lady back issues were their main selling point. It looked like a store from 1982, not 2012.
Dragon Lady’s owner is a great guy and someone I’ve always respected, but he resisted adapting the store over the years to meet the needs of the customers and the recommendations of his staff, something that other Toronto comics retail outlets like the Silver Snail and The Beguiling continue to do successfully.
Kevin Boyd is the current director and a co-founder of the Joe Shuster Awards for Canadian Comic Book Creators. He is also the Canadian Comic Book Guest and Comics Programming Coordinator for Fan Expo Canada, Fan Expo Vancouver and the Toronto ComiCon, and is an Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide Adviser.