Shop in Featured Image is Amalgam Comics in Philadelphia, PA
In her Where to Get Comics article a few weeks ago, Stephanie Cooke mentioned local comic book shops as a place to get comic books. Just like any retail business, not all local comic book shops are created the same. So, in this article we are going to talk about what things generally make a good comic book shop.
Just like any retail establishment the number one thing that you should be looking at is Customer Service. When you walk in the door, are you acknowledged? If they are not with another customer, are you greeted and asked what you can be helped with? Do they listen to your needs? Is the staff knowledgeable about a variety of books and products? If they are not sure of an answer do they take the time to find out for you?
In short and most importantly: do you feel comfortable and welcome when you are in the doors?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, especially when it comes to feeling comfortable and welcome, you shouldn’t feel like you need to give that particular establishment your money.
Atmosphere & Organization
Everyone is going to have personal preferences, but when you walk into a shop it should be clean, well-organized, and easy to find what you’re looking for. Prices should be clearly displayed. If you take a pile of books up to the counter and the person at the register has to look up each price on eBay or in a price guide, that is not a good sign.
The books, be it new releases or backstock, should be organized in an easily understandable way. For weekly comics one of the things that I think works really well is to have the comics organized by their publisher. For me it allows me to easily find the books that I am looking for, while also reminding me of some of the smaller publishers that I might sometimes forget about. At the very least, alphabetical by title is always helpful.
A couple other bonus things that make a local comic book shop stand (for me) out is a well-defined kids section and an area for local publishers and creators. The kids section should be just as well organized and cared for as the rest of the shop. These are their future customers; creating a place where a child is not only comfortable, but wants to go to for things to read will do nothing but work towards generating future business. In addition, anyone who has tried to self-publish a comic will tell you how hard getting distribution is; creating a place where local writers and artists can sell their products helps to create a sense of community within the store.
Staff & Community
We’ve talked before about basic customer service, but for a local comic book shop to be successful and welcoming they need to have more than just the basics down. First start by looking at what kind of people make up the staff of the store. If it consists of all old white guys who seem to act more like Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, then you might want to find a different shop. If you walk into a store and it is filled with what looks like a unique and diverse staff, then you may be on the right path.
The staff should be knowledgeable. This does not mean that they need to know the specifics of every comic, trade, or manga coming out each week. Generally, there are over 100 items coming out each week, so no one could be expected to know everything about every book coming out. However, if the book is highly anticipated or has a buzz around it they should be able to talk about it. This is where having a diverse staff is important. A diverse staff is going to have diverse tastes. The more diverse the tastes means that a better chance of finding someone who works there that will have the same fandoms that you might have.
One particular group that exists within the comic book shop community is the Valkyries. Members of the Valkyries consist of women who are currently employed by a comic book shop. They have forums, meet-ups, book clubs, and social events all centered around comics and its community. If a local shop employs a Valkyrie, it is likely that they will provide you with a reliable source of knowledge and books that may otherwise get missed.
Perks & Events
As you explore local comic book shops one of the important things to look at is what kinds of perks or events they might have.
One of the first perks that any good local comic book shop will have is called a pull list. In later articles will talk about how to create a pull list and why, but for now let’s just talk about what they are. A pull list is when you will pre-order your comics from your local shop and they will hold them for you for weekly pickup. This service is great if there is a book coming out that may sell out, or if the book is one that may not order otherwise. Many shops will provide some sort of discount for having a certain number of books on your pull list.
A good local comic shop is going to host a variety of events throughout the year. One of the biggest of the year is Free Comic Book Day, which is an event where publishers sell various comics to the shops for a discounted price that the publisher then give away. This is a great chance to try some books or characters that you may not try regularly. Other events that a local shop might have is signings from various creators. This is a great chance to meet some of your favorite creators or to check out a new book or series you may not have picked up.
So, as you can see there are many things to consider when choosing a local comic book shop. No matter what it is that draws you to the comics it is important that you feel comfortable with where you spend your hard-earned money.
If you have something to add for this piece, this is a live-updated article and we’re happy to amend anything to make it easier for folks. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions!