There is no question in mind that The Beguiling is the best bookstore in Canada. It is utopian – crammed to the rafters with books old and new, with a hyper-knowledgeable staff and an owner dedicated to retailing as a form of advocacy for the kinds of books that he likes.
As it closes its Markham Street location today, a space that it has occupied since 1992, I won’t even pretend to be unbiased about it. Store owner Peter Birkemoe is a friend, despite once locking me out of my own hotel room in France. Manager Christopher Butcher is probably responsible for everything that I know about Japanese comics. They, and their staff, are the good guys of the comic book industry.
I don’t recall my first visit to The Beguiling. The earliest memory I seem to have is buying a complete run of Yummy Fur back issues at their Boxing Day sale around 1993-ish for ridiculously little money, as well as a near-complete set of Julie Doucet’s mini-comics on the same day. For more than two decades, The Beguiling has been where I go when I’m in Toronto. Last May, I was in and out of Toronto for work and had exactly one free hour to eat before flying home – I went to The Beguiling instead. Peter sold me a dozen Belgian and Japanese comics that I hadn’t previously heard of, which I read while eating an Air Canada sandwich on the way home.
The store and its staff have an incredible energy. In addition to all the work that they do on TCAF, they have branched into publishing, library sales, children’s book retailing, and cultural programming. When people talk about bookstores as the cultural lifeblood of a city, this is what they are talking about.
The next time I’m in Toronto, one of the first things that I’ll do is visit their new location on College Street. It will mark a new era with, I hope, the same spirit.
The Globe and Mail published an excellent piece on The Beguiling on Friday. I recommend it.