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culture

The End is Nigh for Dragon Lady Comics

A beloved comic-book store is closing after almost 34 years in business.

It’s a story we’ve heard too many times before, but that doesn’t make it any less troubling: after more than 30 years in business, Dragon Lady Comics will be closing its doors for the last time on February 1. According to manager Joe Kilmartin, a combination of factors led to the store’s demise, including a drop in foot traffic after repairs to the College Street streetcar tracks, an industry in flux, declining sales, and most directly, a recent increase in the store’s rent.

As of July 2011, rent was raised about 25%, meaning they’re now paying $5,200 a month.

“We’ve been swallowing that extra amount and basically, it’s just more than we can take,” says Kilmartin. “[...] More strength to places like The Beguiling and Silver Snail, who’ve been able to keep their heads above water as long as they have. They’re wonderful people. I hope they can continue to last, because it’s just deadly right now.”

Dragon Lady, located across the street from the Royal Cinema in Little Italy, has walls covered with vintage issues of Life, Time, and Rolling Stone. (A 1954 collector’s issue of the “gentleman’s magazine” Sir! features Marilyn Monroe on the cover, with various headlines asking things like “Can humans hibernate?” and “Why do couples swap their wives?”) Shelves are packed tightly with comics, and boxes overflow with them. Featured comics on “Dragon Lady’s Must-Read Shelf” include local fare like Scott Pilgrim and Kenk, offering customers a hint of native pride.

Dragon Lady has been at its College Street location since 1996, but it originally opened in 1978 on Queen Street. Loyal customers like Norm Wilner, senior film critic for NOW magazine, have relied on the store’s supply of comics and “paper nostalgia” for decades.

Wilner remembers finding old sci-fi and fantasy film magazines like Starlog and Fangoria at Dragon Lady in the early ‘80s. “I used to go there all the time when I was a kid,” he says. “It’s always been this comfortable, tiny, obsessive little place, which I like.” Now that he’s living in Kensington Market, the shop’s current location makes it easy for him to pick up the latest issues of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Nine and other Joss Whedon spin-offs.

Kevin Boyd, event coordinator for Fan Expo Canada and Toronto ComiCon, was possibly the first to blog about the shop’s closure, and he has similar memories of visiting the original location as a teen, looking for copies of The Amazing Spider-Man. Now, he says, Toronto is losing a piece of its own history. “A lot of people discovered comics through Dragon Lady and made it their local store,” he told us. “It’s been a community focus point for a while, especially at their College Street location, where a lot of comic book creators in that area have used it as their hang out and their community base.”

According to Kilmartin, Dragon Lady owner John Biernat hopes to move his business online. Rather than hold a massive blowout sale, he’ll move the store’s stock to a warehouse.

This news marks the third in a string of unfortunate announcements for Toronto bookstores. Earlier this week, 47-year-old west end mainstay The Book Mark announced they were closing, and Glad Day, Canada’s oldest gay and lesbian bookstore, is seeking a new owner. The good news, we hope, is that the year can only get better from here on in.

Comments

  • rk

    25% rent increase from landlord. They’re exploring other places.

    • Anonymous

      Would be great if that were true, but I doubt it-if they can’t afford the rent where they are now, how will they afford the rent in another place downtown? It looks like the only place(s) they might be able to afford to have a business is Scarborough, Etobicoke, North York, East York, York, or the ‘Saugh’.

  • Anonymous

    I thought there was a limit – far below 25% – to how much rent could be increased. Or is that only for residential properties?

    • rbc

      Unfortunately residential only. According to the Ontario Commercial Tenancies Act if rent increases are not covered by the lease they can be increased by any amount at any time.

  • linanneblack

    Oh NOOOO! Dragon Lady is where I get all the vintage magazines that I use in the period shows I design. Moving the store online will make it a lot harder to browse for their overall look and specific content. I hope something can turn this around.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Louis-Train/100002417079232 Louis Train

    Does anyone know the exact date their doors are closing? I’d like to go back when I get the chance.

    • Anonymous

      Why wait until closing day? Go to the store now, or when you get paid, and get the books you want.

    • http://www.bookclubinabox.com Laura Godfrey

      Hey Louis,
      They’ve said the store will be closing on February 1. So be sure to stop by before then!

  • P.M.

    :(

    • http://www.joeshusterawards.com Kevin Boyd

      While Dragon Lady Comics and Paper Nostalgia may have closed and most of the inventory moved into storage in Kitchener, ON, the comics side of the business continued on just a half block east of Clinton, at 587A College Street as the Comic Book Lounge + Gallery.