Swipe Books, 401 Richmond street, Toronto

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: How can you beat that logomark?

The Long Version: Swipe is one of those special places in the world. As a bookstore in downtown Toronto that focuses on advertising and design, it's a hidden gem that's actually fairly well known. Located in the large arts-centric building at 401 Richmond street west, it's a stone's throw from Spadina avenue just a little south of Queen street west. Go in through the doors on the west side of the building, hang a right, follow left, down the hall, and take another right past the elevator: it's just down the green hallway and you can't miss it.

Inside are some of the hip and trendy non-book objects that can also be found in many of the stores on Queen West or in the Annex, but Swipe's not in danger of being mistaken for the Umbra store and there are no cheeky greeting cards anywhere to be found. Their collection of interesting non-books does include a lot of design objects that I haven't seen elsewhere, so while it's no replacement for the shopAGO store, it's worth browsing even if your bookshelves are full. But their books – ah, those books.

Most giant bookstores think they have a graphic design section because they have a book on a billion and one business cards, but Swipe has shelves set aside just for typography, industrial design, urbanism, packaging, illustration, and design theory. They're particularly strong on architecture, and even have a kid's section. While it doesn't delve into Fine Art, there is a huge range of material here for anyone interested in the creative arts of design, graphics, and communication.

Being small gives Swipe both the ability to specialize and the need to only carry the good stuff; this is the place to go to find specific books that other stores won't have as well as to discover a depth that can't be replaced by an on-line "you may also like" auto-suggestion bot. I can't confirm their website's claim that they have "room enough for every graphic design and advertising book worthy of shelf space" – which is a self-contained circular argument – but their current location is vastly better than their previous space at 477 Richmond. That place was mostly a hallway, while the 401 Richmond shop is a more friendly rectangle.

Swipe's prices are sometimes higher than what I may pay elsewhere, but for me it's an easy concession in exchange for their continued enthusiasm. Ballenford and David Mirvish Books have shown that it's important to encourage the businesses that add to the arts and culture of the city. In return Swipe has a thriving program of discount tags that puts Canadian Tire 'Money'™ to shame.

I'm neither a graphic designer nor directly involved in advertising, but Swipe Books is one of my favourite non-camera stores in the city. As a source of interesting material and items it has very few rivals; these photos show three different things that I've already reviewed this year, and they don't even include the display of Spacing's subway buttons that sits by the counter. Swipe is a tough store to beat, and there aren't many other places I can say that about.

last updated 6 may 2011


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