Shopping For the Discerning SF Fan
Despite being a city of over a million people, Dublin is fairly scarce on shops dedicated to SF. These break down broadly into bookshops, both new and second-hand, comic shops, and toy/model/merchandise shops.
Possibly the best selection of SF&F genre fiction in Dublin is to be found in Hodges Figgis in Dawson Street. This may be helped by the fact that the managing director, Walter Pohli, is quite a fan of SF himself. The shop also has working in it the redoubtable Liam Donnelly, who was once involved with the late lamented Alchemist's Head.
Hodges Figgis is directly across the street from Waterstone's Bookshop, which also carries a reasonably decent selection. Interestingly, both of these shops are now owned by the same (British-based) company, but make so much money that it wouldn't be sensible to close either one, and especially not Hodges Figgis, which outsells its rival by two to one. It is, as far as I know, the best performing shop in the Waterstone's group, despite not actually being one of them. Neither of these shops, in common with virtually all Irish bookshops, maintain a website, so there is nowhere I can point you to to have a look at their wares.
Other reasonably good sources of genre books are Eason's in O'Connell Street and Forbidden Planet on Crampton Quay. Forbidden Planet have recently had an overhaul, mind you, and the book section is now squeezed into a small space under the stairs in the basement, rather than taking up half of the ground floor, as it previously did. There are many who maintain that the books in FP had their heyday a goodly number of years back, when Robert Elliott used to order them. This was while the shop was still in Dawson Street (where it opened its doors to a grateful Irish public in December of 1987, if memory serves me rightly), mind you, so may be before many people even became aware of it.
Second Hand Books
It is in the second-hand trade that we really have a good choice of genre books, certainly in Dublin. Despite the second-hand trade suffering a large number of casualties in the last ten years or so, it's still the best place to find those out-of-print gems that you can't live without. Three shops share top spot here, and I'll go through them in alphabetical order. To make things even easier, they're all with a stone's throw (if you had a really, really aerodynamic stone) of one another.
Dandelion Books in Aungier Street is arguably the shop with the largest selection of second-hand SF&F books in Ireland. The shop is now under the guidance of Rory Lennon, though it was once managed by myself, for a number of years. Rory has a vast and encyclopaedic knowledge of all things science fictional, and seems to remember everything he has read, which is more than most of us can say. Not only that, he remembers everything he has in stock, and can always be relied on to recommend something good to read, if you want him to.
Ger's Books is in the George's Street Arcade, sometimes also referred to as the South City Market. As you enter the market from George's Street (having just departed from Dandelion Books), you go in to the left, behind the row of stalls in the middle, and, just past the shop selling the Nepalese fisherman's pants, you will find Ger's Books, and its diminutive and charming proprietor, Geraldine O'Boyle. Ger certainly gets my vote for 'best ratio of quality-of-stock to shelf-space', meaning that, despite having a much smaller amount of space that other shops, she still has as much superb stock as if she has a shop three times the size. Ger's has a small but excellent SF&F section, as well as much else to recommend it.
If you walk through to the end of the arcade, and go left and then right, you'll find yourself on Exchequer Street. This turns into Wicklow Street, where the eagle-eyed will find The Secret Book & Record Shop at the end of a corridor leading from the street. This is owned by Dermot Carroll. Dermot keeps great books on his shelves, and fairly recently bought a large SF collection, a lot of which is still there to be found. This is one of my favourite places to go for a chat, particularly if both Dermot and Derek Tighe happen to be working. I once went in and Derek said 'the Da has a smelly leg.' You don't get much more Dublin than that, really.
All these shops come extremely well recommended. Chapters in Middle Abbey Street does not, but it's your life, and if you want to go look, I can't stop you.
There are two main comic shops in Dublin, with one late arrival, and one second-hand shop.
SubCity in Exchequer Street is probably my favourite, though mostly because I spend far too much time in there talking to the urbane and erudite Richie Lawlor, who runs the place in conjunction with co-owner Robert Curley. A very good selection of graphic novels is building up in the shop, along with an excellent choice of regular comics. I usually buy my regular stuff here, before I head elsewhere.
Forbidden Planet (still on Crampton Quay) is the other main comic shop in Dublin. Again, they do a good coverage of both comics and graphic novels. They also occasionally clear out some of the overstocks by putting them in boxes for 30 cents each. I've got a lot of good stuff out of these boxes over the past while, along with some awful stuff too. You pays your money and you takes your choice, mind you, and you can't go too far wrong in taking a chance at that price.
The newcomer in the comic business is The 3rd Place on Crow Street, whose name was chosen not just because of Sony, but also to reflect that it represented an alternative to the two established shops. In a way it's too early to say what they're going to end up doing, but they carry a small amount of regular comics, along with an also small, but extremely comprehensive selection of graphic novels, which occasionally has stock not to be found in either of the other two shops.
If you go down to the end of Crow Street, you'll find a shop called Crow Corner. This is actually three small enterprises in one, with Liam Webster's second-hand comic stall tucked away in the corner. Liam has a very broad range of back issue comics, as well as some excellent old graphic novels. I'm always plaguing him for stuff, and, to his credit, he regularly turns up with the goods. Well worth a visit, in my opinion.
Toys, Models and Merchandise
This is the area of SF retail that I know least about, and have least interest in, despite the fact that (or quite possibly because) it is the most lucrative end of the marketplace. The fact that Forbidden Planet have relegated their books below stairs to make room for more toys I find disturbing. I simply find it hard to understand what it is people get out of owning all these things. However, and it the interests of thoroughness, I'll list these too.
The aforementioned Forbidden Planet has, as I mentioned, doubled the amount of floor space it is devoting to 'merchandise', which probably makes it the best place to go looking for this kind of stuff. Other sources are The 3rd Place and big toyshops like Smith's on Jervis Street. The one shop I do regularly find myself in is Christy Flood's excellent Model Swap Shop on Berkeley Road, out near Phibsboro. Finding this can be an adventure in itself. You can get the 10 bus from O'Connell Street, which stops directly outside the shop. The shop is actually one of those grocer cum post office things, with a long corrugated iron corridor off the back of it, which leads to Christy's lair. Christy is possibly the most laid-back man I've ever met, and always seems to be doing some intricate paintjob on a model whenever I call in. Also, despite the fact that I've been going to visit him for years, he never appears to have any customers, only an ever increasing number of absolutely fabulous models in the numerous glass cases that line the walls of the shop.
And there you have it. A brief guide to SF shopping in Dublin. I'll eventually get around to doing the rest of the country, as well as Northern Ireland. Being an Irishman, I can't help doing a piece on all the late lamented shops that once were with us, but no longer are. Names like The Alchemist's Head, Phantasia and The Flying Pig should trigger a few nostalgic thoughts in some people. As soon as I get a chance, I'll get to them.
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