Why Visit The Hairy Tarantula North?
The Hairy Tarantula North in Toronto is the kind of store only a diehard gamer or comic fan could love. To enjoy a visit you need to be so enamoured of the endless shelves of eclectic games, books, and collectibles that you can see past the grotty basement, uncertain pricing system, and inconsistent customer service. I enjoy a visit a couple of times a year. Here’s why I still visit The Hairy Tarantula North despite its flaws.
Update, November 10, 2018: As of summer 2018 HT has moved to a single location on Young Street, about halfway between their old and new locations. It’s a pale shadow of HT north. A reduction in shelf space and inventory along with the disappearance of all the boxes of backstock stuffed into corners has turned the new HT into a cut above the average game store, but not by much.
The entrance to HT North sums it up. An eclectic and brightly coloured collection of iconic fandom art draws geeks like a beacon into a dilapidated strip mall and down a grungy flight of stairs into a windowless and cavernous basement. Under closer inspection the front entrance artwork is worse for wear and going grey under a thickening layer of dust.
Once inside, however, you’ll be spoiled for choice and wondering where to explore first. And I do mean explore. The first time through you could easily spend two hours poking around and even longer if you stop to page through a few things from the massive book collection. It’s an enormous vault filled with everything geek. Here are some of the highlights.
It has a lot of easily accessible gaming space for card games like Magic, board games, and even a 6×4 miniatures gaming table. Increasingly, any store still providing space for gaming allocates that space to Magic the Gathering. At HT you can show up anytime and expect to find open tables in three separate areas – CCG, board game, and miniatures – where you and your buddies can play any game that suits you. It definitely provides a “3rd Place” (after work and home) to spend some time. An increasingly rare store model and one worth celebrating wherever we find it.
There’s a large and eclectic selection of miniatures ranging from the latest Games Workshop or Privateer Press offerings to 20-year-old models still in blister packs, There are a couple of clear plastic bins with GW, Rackham, and goodness knows what else that you can root through to unearth models you haven’t seen in decades. They even have a fair number of original Star Wars 20mm metal figures still in blister packs. Under glass there are singles from dozens of collectible ‘blind box’ ranges. They aren’t cheap but you may just be able to complete your collection here.
The Hairy Tarantula North also has some drawbacks. A lot of the ‘used’ merch, and some of the newer stuff as well, does not show a price. Every time I’m at HT I always end up asking about the price of things at which point the staff direct me to who I’m assuming is the manager. He takes a good look at me – I can hear him ask the mental question, “How much will this guy pay?” – and then states a price which seems to me is around what the thing sold for when it was new in original packaging. I usually can’t be bothered to barter and feel this seemingly ‘make-the-price-up-on-the-spot’ routine detracts from the overall experience. There’s a distinct used-car-salesman vibe to buying used merch at HT.
There’s also the vaunted weekly, monthly, and quarterly deals that HT offers; however, I’ve often found that the info on the website is a month behind. Asking about these deals in the store itself has been hit and miss for me and I know for a fact (because I’ve bought something and only later checked their website) that they won’t tell you at the cash that you could have got 5 or 10 or 15 percent off your item because it was part of that month’s deal. You have to know in advance and then ask for the discount. So, between the lack of visible price tags and murky discounts, it’s a case of buyer be aware because you’re on your own. Combined with the store’s other detriments I sometimes leave with a bad taste in my mouth and frequent the store far less often than I might otherwise.
Back to the positives.
Finally, there are the books. Thousands and thousands of books. New and used RPG books are stuffed on to dozens of bookcases and represent all the major genres and companies, and many of the smaller ones. Art books abound, showcasing the art of [insert movie, TV, comic, or video game franchise of choice here]. I did not see a lot of single issue comic series or a subscription service so, in that sense, it’s not a traditional comic book shop. What they do have, however, are hundreds of comic book anthologies collecting both mainstream and obscure comics into beautiful bound copies. Last but not least are the hundreds of anime books. Outside of my time in Tokyo, I’ve never seen this many Japanese language titles collected in one place. For the diehard Japanime or manga otaku this section at HT probably borders on a near religious experience the first time they encounter it.
By leaving six months between visits The Hairy Tarantula doesn’t get old for me. The charm of being able to explore a store wholly given over to the celebration of gaming and comic geekery outweighs the drawbacks during these infrequent visits.