Silver Snail, along with The Beguiling and the collected Hairy Ts, make up the (un)holy trinity of famous Toronto comic book shops. They’re often the only shops that non readers, or casual readers, remember and recommend. Silver Snail in particular is that shop—the one you visited when you were downtown; the one where you got that Green Lantern statuette, lo those many years ago. It’s a great store, but maybe not an ideal local comic book shop.
Located on Queen West, just shy of the strip of bars and eateries that host NXNE and similar festivals, the store gets a lot of browsers. The clientele is a mix of seasoned, Wednesday comics people, window shoppers, and people dipping their toes into comics fandom. Like other downtown shops we’ve reviewed, Silver Snail draws a little bit of everybody, and… a lot of teenagers. (Which seems to be a theme of stores with a lot of toys, apparel and other stuff). The staff too, is a mix of younger-older, male-female, and their particular interests and specialties vary. There’s the guy who can help you out finding a particular back issue. The girl who knows everything there is to know about busts and statuettes. This is a store that takes itself seriously as a place of business, without being obnoxiously focused on sales.
While the decor of the shop is pretty typical—glass cases full of figurines, racks of licenced t-shirts and hoodies—they’ve put real thought and effort into how things are displayed, and how they use space. Silver Snail isn’t an accessible shop, but their wide aisles and merchandising restraint will be a pleasant surprise to those used to an all the things approach to lcs displays. Regardless, Silver Snail does carry a lot of merchandise, and a lot of toys, toys, toys. The top floor is almost completely dedicated to toys, (and posters, and gaming supplies).
Like One Million Comix, Silver Snail displays its selection of comics in the back of the shop. This is a wise merchandising decision; impulse buys are front and center, along with pieces designed to attract the attention of browsers. Comics don’t feel like an afterthought though, and my god, the gorgeous shelving. A diverse collection of trades is slotted onto a ring of shelves, with back issues collected in plastic-fronted drawers below them. This part of the stores is organized (so organized), and checking out their stock is therefore easy and enjoyable. New issues are displayed magazine style, and the store keeps a couple of weeks worth on hand at any time.
The store’s great failing though, is inaccessibility. Silver Snail has two floors and no wheelchair access/elevator. Even worse, the comics are a couple of steps up from the ground floor, a serious problem for folks using mobility devices. The (smart) focus on fandom merchandise, as opposed to just comics, also means that the store is at times uncomfortably busy—this too, may pose a problem for shoppers using mobility devices, or even moms accompanied by small children.
We said above that the Silver Snail is not an ideal local comics shop. This isn’t a slight against the store, which is very good at what it does, but a reflection on its atmosphere, which fits in well with the busy shopping district outside. It’s not overwhelmingly populated by regulars and locals, and it doesn’t really feel like the kind of shop you’d hang out in and debate the merits of Crisis vs. Infinite Crisis, for an hour or two.
But hey, if you’re not interested in visiting the shop irl, they have a strong online presence. Their website has the rundown on membership privileges, deals, and an online store (not accepting credit card payments at this time, unfortunately). They also have a Twitter account, which is updated regularly, and hey, whoever’s updating it is friendly, and ready to answer questions.
We recommend Silver Snail for downtowners who don’t mind a busy atmosphere, anyone who’s in the neighborhood, and those looking for a Toronto-GTA delivery service.