There's a comic book shop a mile or so from my work. I've known about it for many years, having first visited it long before I started working where I am currently. But, even when I was buying pamphlet comics on a weekly basis, I didn't frequent the shop very often because, frankly, it's not very good.
The shop is actually about a third sports cards, a third role playing games and a third comics. Though they have posters and promotional material that highlights that they sell comics (the name of the shop alone wouldn't in any way suggest what type of business they are) you only see sports cards when you first enter. You have to walk past the register and the sports cards before you see any of the comics on the very back wall, and you have to walk completely past the gaming supplies before you actually get a sense that they have comics. It's a strange sort of layout that never seemed to be very conducive to anything.
Like many comic shops, it feels quite cramped, and I'd be hard-pressed to imagine a worse use of the space. It reminds me more of a storage garage than a shop, really. It never seems to have decorated so much as just piled with stuff.
The first couple of times I stopped in, it happened to be raining. I can recall this because when I'd made it to the back of the shop, I heard what sounded like water dripping in somewhere. I looked around to see where it was coming from, but couldn't ascertain a source. But what really surprised me was that the third time I was there, it was dry and sunny outside, but I still heard this same dripping noise.
I've never really paid much heed to the cards and gaming portions of the shop. But the comics part always struck me as something of a mess. There was a rectangular glass counter containing various old action figures and whatnot, with that week's new comics laid out on top. Across from that was a long, self-standing magazine rack with the previous weeks' material on it. The reverse side of the rack had the previous couple of months' books. Along the back and on one side were yellowing long boxes with older comics.
The organization never made much sense to me. The newest books were vaguely alphabetical, but using more of a "largest word on the cover instead of the actual title" approach as the basis of organization. You'd be as likely as not to find Amazing Spider-Man under either "A" or "S". And even then, anything by a publisher smaller than, say, Dark Horse got shoved way around the side, completely separated from the other new books.
The long boxes seemed to follow the same pattern. Except that they were also split out in three broad categories: Marvel, DC and everything else. But the categories weren't labeled very well, so you couldn't really tell where Marvel stopped and DC started. And "everything else" isn't actually labeled at all. Whether a Marvel or DC imprint was filed under those publishers or under "everything else" was something of a crapshoot as well. I think I found Vertigo under DC, but Marvel's Epic titles under "everything else."
They do have a very modest selection of manga and a surprisingly-not-horrid collection of hardcovers and TPBs. They've always been, to my knowledge, marked as 25% off the cover price. There's even a sign that says they'll special order anything still in print, and still give you a 25% discount.
The workers generally seem pleasant and helpful enough. It, somewhat surprisingly, doesn't smell musty or reek of body odor. It's by far not the worst comic shop I've been to, but it's a very far cry from the best. I can't imagine trying to get through the tight quarters on a Wednesday. Certainly not a place I would choose as my comic book shop, unless there really no other reasonable options.
But, on a whim, I stopped by on my way home from work yesterday to try to pick up the new Serenity: Float Out one-shot. They didn't have it. Sold out. I can't blame them for that, certainly; a shop manager really needs to try to get his orders as close to exact demand as possible if he's going to stay in business. (On a side note, I'm deliberately using "he" because the retail side of things is so overwhelmingly male. Plus, the handful of women that I've heard of managing comic shops do an excellent job, and I wouldn't want to categorize them in the same class as the place I'm talking about here.) But being in the shop was an obvious reminder of why I never frequented the place. It was the same type of uncomfortable shop that I've seen far too often before; something of a holdover from the early days of the direct market when it was just a big ol' boys' club with a hand-painted "no girls allowed" sign on the door.
Now I don't wish the folks who own/operate that store any ill will. If they've got a business model that works for them, who am I to argue? But seeing the place this past week really helps put into perspective some of the really good shops I have seen in the past year or two. It puts into sharp focus exactly why some of the shops I've been to are better than others. It reminds me that, yeah, those ratty little shops I went to as a kid are still around and the better shops I've been to are not yet the norm.
Again, I don't wish these guys ill will, but I also don't doubt that Darwinian principles will eventually dictate that they either update the business model or close down. Especially in lieu of America's largest comic publisher finally taking some steps (albeit hesitant ones) into digital distribution. As much as I don't like watching train wrecks or subsequent rubber-necking, it will be curious to see what happens to these types of places in the next 12-24 months.
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