Welcome to Store Tour, ROBOT 6’s weekly exploration of comics shops, and the people who run them. Each Sunday we feature a different store, and also get to know the person behind the register.
This week’s store is Little Island Comics, located at 742 Bathurst St. in Toronto, Ontario. We spoke with store manager Andrew Woodrow-Butcher.
ROBOT 6: What's the secret origin of your store?
Andrew Woodrow-Butcher: Little Island Comics is a spinoff of The Beguiling Books & Art, which has been in business since 1987. The Beguiling had been helping schools and libraries curate their comics collections for years, which meant that we were already quite focused on comics for young people. A retail/office space became available around the corner from The Beguiling in 2011, at about the same time as we were looking for a new home for our Library Services team. We thought: We've already got a huge kids' comics inventory, and a group of booksellers who are specialists in kids' comics ... why not open up a shop?
The name is almost a pun. The most common mishearing of "The Beguiling" that we encounter is "The Big Island," so we thought "Little Island Comics" was the perfect name for our new kids' space.
Tell me about the layout of your store.
Our store is a small boutique, and the majority of our shelf space is devoted to a single "section": graphic novels for kids. We also have areas for picture books and for teen graphic novels, as well as French-language comics, single-issue comic books and manga. We try to carry everything that could possibly fit into the category "comics for kids."
Why did you decide to get into comics retailing? What in your background do you think made you particularly suited for the retail side of comics?
I personally have been a bookseller my whole adult life. I worked for a large national chain of bookstores for more than a decade, and the majority of that time I worked in kids' books. When a position came up at an indie shop, that was doing great, interesting things, and in a growing part of the book business, I jumped at the chance. I was not really a comics reader as a kid, but I think coming to this business with a different but related set of expertise and experience has been a huge asset.
Do you have a philosophy or strategy to retailing?
The Beguiling has always been the shop that looks at what the others are doing, and then does something else. I think that strategy has been really fruitful. Little Island should be the shop where you see things you didn't know existed, comics you never thought you'd find.
That said, we also are very committed to representing every facet of the medium of comics. Our hallmark might be the independent or unusual book, but we are also a place where you can get your Adventure Time fix.
What are your current bestsellers? What are your favorites that deserve to sell better at your store?
Our biggest sellers recently are two books from Toronto cartoonists: Kate Beaton's The Princess and the Pony, and Kean Soo's March Grand Prix. Kate's book is a picture book featuring her popular fat pony character, and though it isn't what most people would call "comics," it's great work from a great cartoonist, and kids (and grown-ups) are loving it. March is the much-anticipated new book from the creator of Jellaby: It's got lots of car-racing action, and is a great book for the youngest independent readers.
What is your customer base like? How has it changed over time?
Our customer base started out mostly local, with neighborhood kids, or grown-ups who worked nearby. But over the last four years word has really gotten out, and now we have customers who make a point of visiting when they're in Toronto, whether they're visiting from the suburbs or from around the world.
How do you reach out to new customers? How do you advertise?
We put the word out on social media when we have special events or sales. But our customer base has largely grown through word-of-mouth.