Coffee & Heroes
Address: Unit 16, Smithfield Market, Belfast, BT1 1JE
For years Forbidden Planet with it’s dour faced and in some cases downright unpleasant staff ( you’ll note the lack of a review for Belfast’s Forbidden planet on my site) had a strangle hold on the comic book scene in Belfast. If you wanted comics & comic/pop culture merchandise this is where you had to go. The boom in recent times of comic book movies and the gradual seeping of comic culture into the general zeitgeist has allowed for more and more stores to pop up. The most recent of these opened it’s doors in Belfast this week so I went along to see what the new kid on the block, Coffee & Heroes had to offer.
Coffee & Heroes is located in Smithfield Market, a small indoor marketplace made up of individual units beside Castle Court, one of the Main Shopping centres on the edge of the city centre. Smithfield isn’t exactly a shopping metropolis but there are a few stores like the army surplus, vintage toy store and Doughzy Donuts that are of interest to me when I’m in it. Within easy walking distance of the main shopping part of Belfast and therefore well served by bus connection. Parking is available in the nearby Castle Court multi-story car park, and a smaller car park beside the market itself. Not so well serviced by trains as it’s quite a hike to both Yorkgate and Central, the two closest train Translink stations.
Coffee & Heroes greatest asset – it’s location, is also one of it’s biggest disadvantages. Being within Smithfield Market means that it’s also subject to it’s opening hours. This means no late night opening ( especially a killer for a Thursday which is traditionally Belfast’s only late night shopping night ) and no opening Sundays . This means the only time you can access the store if you work full time outside of walking distance, is a Saturday. One good thing is that the owner Alan, intends to be open before 9am and after 5pm in the evenings as far as the centre times will allow him, this is a smart move as it will help to squeeze every bit of footfall out of the shops location.
Atmosphere and Layout:
Coffee & Heroes is brand new. It’s doors had only been open for three days when I visited. They have put a lot of effort into painting and brightening up the unit and it shows. Smithfield can seem like a dark dingy place sometimes, but not so with the store. It felt bright and welcoming as soon as I went through the door. Lots of open space which I wasn’t expecting and the tables to sit at while you are having a coffee don’t feel in any way cramped. It feels bigger than it is. Little hard to judge the atmosphere with it still being box fresh but it wasn’t unwelcoming in anyway, far from it. When I was there the store had arranged for Captain America & Deadpool cosplayers to visit and it just lit up when they arrived. It’s the sort of place that would really pop with a crowd or special event.
Surprisingly large amount of modern back issues on offer from Marvel, DC and the Indies.
I didn’t see any big hitting wall books. Silver age is pretty much non existent. It’s not surprising as in NI in general they are exceptionally hard to come buy. As people come in and sell their collections I Imagine this will change.
The 99p section is very good value with recent Rebirth & New 52 books as well as Secret Wars books from Marvel on offer alongside 99p Indie titles.
Small section for graphic novels which was a little disappointing in its range and scope, key graphics that any comic book store should carry were missing from the inventory, but it’s early days yet and the owner did tell me that he is hoping to extend the range as soon as possible. Graphic Novels hold their value. Single issues eventually have to be dropped in price to move if they aren’t keys. There are graphic novels that sell consistently day in day out, week in week out and they should be given priority to keep the lights on.
Store carries a few Pops but very light on the memorabilia front. I imagine that will change as the shop matures. I did see a Negan Walking Dead Lucile Baseball bat with a “For Display only” in the middle of the graphic novel section which surprised me. I’m a firm believer that shops should use retail space for stuff they want to sell.
I think I spent around £60 in store and I came out with 4 bags of single issues & a graphic novel. If anything I worry that some of their prices on especially key issues are too low. First appearance of Nebula from Guardians of The Galaxy and New Mutants #1 @ £2.99? I bought 1st Nebula last week but at that price I’d have been insane not to pick up a second copy.
Modern desirable books like Sheriff of Babylon, Redneck, 4 Kids Walk into a Bank. Key issues from my all time favourite series Locke & Key, as well as Darwyn Cooke DC variants and New Avengers variants at some silly prices made me very happy with my purchases.
Alan the owner was very friendly, not just to me but to all the customers & especially the kids which was a nice touch. It’s easy to be nice to someone you might be getting money off, but if you watch how people treat kids in stores you generally get a good idea of what they are really like. Alan seemed very knowledgeable about comics and was more than happy to chat to me. My custom felt valued and that’s a big deal to me. He offered, unprompted by me to keep over a copy of Rednecks #2 for me because he was positive I’d like the first.
The Wow Factor in Heroes & Comics is the ability to grab a coffee while you are browsing for books. It sounds like a small thing but trawling through longboxes, sometimes on your hands and knees takes it out of you when you are looking for comics. The chance to sit down ( once you’ve bought the books, don’t be THAT guy ) and grab a coffee, tea or soft drink and just decompress or chat with a friend is priceless. Staggeringly it’s unique in Belfast, there is no where else you can do this and it’s the strongest selling point for Coffee & Heroes while it finds it’s feet.
Overall I was very impressed with Coffee & Heroes. It’s a shame about the opening hours or I’d never be out of the place, but that for the moment is out of their control. Go along, grab a coffee and grab some books at really reasonable prices from a place that seems genuinely pleased to have your custom. I wish Alan & Coffee & Heroes nothing but every possible success.