There’s A Comic Store in My Head

Praise Ye!

Praise Odin!  It’s happened! After years of hoping against hope and diligently praying to Thor’s papa, a new comic shop has opened up in my neighborhood. It’s just blocks from the 1950s ranch house I call my personal headquarters!  Some might even call it “walking distance.” A new comic store? In this economy?! I’m floored.

Truth is, over the last decade, my wife and I have a long running joke whenever an empty storefront kicks into construction mode. She comments, “I hope something useful goes in there.” And I inevitably respond with something along the lines of “I hope it’s a comic store,” knowing full well that there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that anyone in their right mind is going to open such a high risk/low reward business in the sun-bleached wasteland that I call my neighborhood. Nail salons. That’s what they like to open in this part of the world, that or one of those twenty-dollar foot massage places. Lord knows I could probably use a manicure (and I do enjoy myself a good foot rub), but simply put, those sorts of places don’t help a brother get his weekly comic book fix.

But last month my prayers were answered. I was in my living room staring off into space when I received a text from my wife that included an attached photo of a small handwritten sign that read simply “Comic Store.  Coming Soon.”  Was this some sort of cruel joke?  Sure, I hadn’t emptied the dishwasher of my own volition in months, but I didn’t deserve to be mocked so harshly.  “Don’t toy with me, woman,” I muttered to no one in particular. Eventually the wife clarified that the sign was in the window of a vacant storefront not too far from the abode. I was pumped. This was a golden opportunity. I’d never had a geographically desirable comic shop to call my own. Because of the expansive nature of the City of Angels, I’d never really had much in the way of personal connection to one shop or another. Generally, I base my book buying on where I happen to be on any given Wednesday. Sure I’ve got my favorites , but none of the shops I frequent are really “mine” in that special “my local comic store” way. But with the proximity of this new comic book endeavor, that was about to change.

I envisioned stepping into this new shop and immediately chatting up the owner. I imagined his name might be Jeff or Jerry; definitely something with a “J.” There’d be immediate geek chemistry and we’d become great friends. I’d hang out for hours on end, talking comics and about life in general. I’d become a fixture, there more often than not. Sure, my day job would suffer, but it’d be worth it. Maybe I’d work a shift or two behind the counter for free just because Jeff is such a pleasant guy. I took my fantasies a bit further and imagined that the place would have some really nifty places to sit. Big overstuffed couches maybe or a variety of La-Z-Boy chairs in which to kick back and readcomics. Some modern touches, too. I was excited! This place was going to be cutting edge. Hip and happening. Maybe there’d be craft beer on tap?  Wouldn’t that be something?  Comics and beer? Imagine the possibilities! This was going to be a rebirth! My local comic shop would be different than all the rest. A geek oasis. A clubhouse that I would never want to leave. I couldn’t wait.

In the days following the text from my wife, I watched this new comic store come to life…sort of. It was slow going, truth be told. The new owner taped up some yellowing standees of Hulk and Spider-Man to the front windows first thing. Didn’t seem like it was done with a whole lot of care, truth be told, but I told myself not judge the place yet. If a crusty old standee brings in a few new customers who wouldn’t otherwise come in, I’m all for it. Weeks passed. Nothing really seemed to be happening at the new shop. I peeked into the place and could see that it was coming along…again sort of. There were some familiar comic racks, some glass cases, a counter with a cash register, and the usual shelf of graphic novels. No sign of any La-Z-Boy chairs or any chairs for that matter. Guess they’d be putting those in later. The real question: Why was it taking so long to actually open? I was antsy, anxious to forge ahead with what I imagined would be a relationship with a comic store like nothing I had ever experienced. Finally, one evening, as I was driving my son back from little league practice, I saw it. Like a beacon in the dusky summer night. It was an illuminated sign on the front of the previously dark comic store that blinked a welcoming “OPEN” to passersby. The time had come.

The following day, I pulled my trusty white Ford Explorer up to the front of the place. As I stood at the entrance, I though about how my life was about to change. There was no turning back. I walked through the front door, only to be met by what can best be described as a decidedly run-of-the-mill comic store.  The wind immediately left my sails. This was not the store I’d seen in my mind.  Not even close. I’d seen this store a hundred other times. The word that comes to mind is “serviceable.” Where was the beer? Cutting edge this place was not. I immediately tried to orient myself through the initial disappointment. I should give this place a chance, I told myself.  Suddenly, I was face-to-face with the smiling storeowner, who put out his hand, introduced himself and asked my name. Though thrown off by the obvious lack of beer taps and absent modern accents, I introduced myself and we immediately started talking comics. I liked him. He suggested some titles and I will admit to there being at least a modicum of geek chemistry there. He offered to set up a “pull list” for me. I actually wasn’t ready for that sort of commitment, so I held off and told him that I was going to have a look around.

Everywhere I looked was something that made me think to myself “I’d do it a bit differently.” You see, there’s a part of me that’s been designing the ultimate comic shop in my head for as long as I’ve been going to comic stores. Nothing ultimate here. Soon I was swallowing the bitter pills of truth: this wasn’t the coolest comic store in town and this place wasn’t really going to change my life. But as I watched the storeowner interact with various customers and saw the obvious joy on his face, it dawned on me that this place, though miles away from the comic store I’d fantasized about in my sun-baked brain, was likely the tangible version of a comic store he had once envisioned in his own head. He too had undoubtedly imagined the dream comic shop of the mind…and here it was in all its “glory.” Would I tape standees in the window?  No. Would I have comfortable chairs for my customers? Yes. Beer? Damn straight. But there’s something noble about a man realizing a dream. His dream.

In the end, it’s admittedly a bit difficult to accept that the comic store in my ‘hood and the comic store in my head are so utterly different, but hey, they’ve got comics and the place is in walking distance. There’s something to be said for that.

Gabe Roth is a TV writer and producer trapped in the suburbs of Los Angeles, CA.  He’s @gaberoth on Twitter. 


  1. Great article and best wishes for the gentleman starting up his own business and following his dream.

  2. This was a great read.

  3. Gabe, I feel the same way as you. In my own head a comic shop should have a sitting area, should encourage people to hang out and read, should provide fatty snacks, beer or coffee or something. Should have art events, social gatherings, cosplay contests and adult get togethers at night. But most comic shops seem to be opposite unfortunately. Don’t read before you buy, cluttered and unable to navigate isles, don’t use your cell phones in the store.

    We can’t be the only people who feel this way, and its safe to say that people who have these businesses have entertained these sort of ideas. But these guys at least opened something, maybe the super comic store hang out spot is not economically possible.

    • Borders had the sitting area and snacks, not enough people bought books when they could loaf there for hours and read for free….

    • Yea, thats probably why you don’t see it, regardless of how much we as consumers would like it. Too many people take advantage.

    • I knew literally a half dozen people who went to Borders or Barnes and Noble on their lunch break, picked up a graphic novel and read for an hour. When their lunch was over they put it back on the shelf and left. Repeat. They never spent a dime. As much as we’d like to think we wouldn’t be those people the margins on comic shops are way too low to risk something like this except in very select communities where people wouldn’t game the system. San Francisco comes to mind…maybe.

  4. This article made me smile so much! I things go great for the owner.

  5. Not measuring up to expectations. That’s a new one.

  6. I’ve often wondered how one goes about opening a comic book shop and running it successfully. Do comic shop owners typically have business degrees? I mean, beyond renting a space and getting an account with Diamond (and taping up a Hulk standee in the window), what other specific things must one do? I ask about the business degree because I don’t know what other resources there are in terms of understanding the details of business licences, hiring employees, taxes, etc. How did you current or former shop owners figure this stuff out? And what makes for a successful comic shop? Maybe Ron should comment since he owns a shop (haha).

    • If you don’t know what you’re doing, you won’t be in business for long. A proper business plan is a necessity, and an artifact that you’ll need to present to your investors. If you don’t have a plan down to the last detail – you will fail.

    • We started up our own shop just over a year ago with no business degrees and no real start up capital, just a healthy sense of enthusiasm and a big love of comics. We had the whole “geek oasis” thing in mind, but with tea instead of beer. We started really small, both with space and with our initial orders, but actually underestimated the interest in a comic shop in our community and our selection grew immensely in those first few months. Like Gabe said, it is high risk and low reward, but we’ve been doing just fine and, at the beginning of this month, we expanded into a larger space. We have a table and some chairs to sit and talk, as well as access to a balcony area to allow our customers to lounge and socialize when the weather is nice. Maybe we can advance more into a cafe direct in another year or so to get more of the oasis feel. We don’t get paid and we work other jobs on top of running the shop, but, for right now, the reward of being comic shop owners is enough.

    • Unless you are wealthy, you will need to take out a loan. In order to do so you must present a business model with realistic forecasts in order for the bank to not laugh at you. Once set up, small business owners will be responsible for paying the lease on their commercial space, acquiring all proper permits and licenses (usually one time charges or annual renewals), hiring and managing employees (be up to date with all local and federal employment laws – recommend attending seminars or subscribing to publications to do so), payroll (a good payroll company like Paychex or ADP can manage the required taxes quite well, but be sure to look over every report and have a representative at the company you can get in touch with quickly) and typically small business do not offer exorbitant benefits, so long as they know what benefits they are required to provide (e.g. Overtime, holiday pay, commuter benefits in some states). It can be a lot to handle and typically you can find a small operation so bogged down in the details that there is no time to provide love to the store. What you really want to do outside of make money (duh) is limit liability, which means understanding as much legal responsibility as possible when running a business. One wrongful termination suit or a tripping hazard and the store could be gone in a flash.

    • Honestly, I wouldn’t say bank loans are the way to go unless you can get a co-signer, which I wouldn’t count on either in today’s economy. I would recommend saving money and may seeing if some friends or family would be willing to donate to your cause. Also to start small on both space and orders (which, just saying, setting up a Diamond account and dealing with them on a continual basis can be trying at times). Liability insurance, however, is a must.

  7. another sterling piece, gabe! really look forward to your future articles!

  8. Gabe, this was great. Really enjoying your contributions thus far. This guy’s store may be “serviceable”, but the fact that he is friendly, motivated to interact with customers and recommends titles puts him way above every other middling little LCS whose owners/employees ignore and belittle customers. I hope he succeeds and continues to improve aspects of the store by listening to customer feedback.

  9. great article Gabe, you pretty much captured my situation to a tee. I have a great little downtown in walking distance from my house. Its ok, a bit messy and poorly laid out, an old couch and 2 swivel chairs are there, but usually are covered with piles of comics (once a week someone comes in and just gives him their old comics) But almost every weekend I walk with at least one of my kids in tow, which always leads to buying some plush toy or bobble head, but i gladly do it to keep the store around.

    honestly, if he ever went out of business, i think i would stop buying comics again, for me part of the fun is walking there with my kids, reliving what i did as a kid and sharing it with my own. Even though they are young, 2 and 4, gotta start em early!!

    Last weekend, i went with just my 2 year old son, and for the first time, he picked out a comic, a new Simpsons, which he clutched and death gripped the whole way home. in fact for the rest of the day that book didn’t leave his hand. he slept with it in his crib. the next day held it until the cover ripped off. i cant wait till my visit this weekend to see what he does next.

  10. Another great article by someone new to us, thank you Ifanboy, and thanks Gabe, great article.

  11. interesting article. In this day and age its so important to create a business that people want to go to. Its very cool that the owner seems inviting and helpful, but if it doesn’t look and feel like something special, people might not come back.

    I think it would do very well for every LCS owner, especially new ones, to set something up in their shops and ask for customer feedback. I’m sure you’ll get a lot of trolls, but you might get some great help. There maybe a lot of things you’re doing wrong and you just don’t know. Remember with retail, when you lose a customer they rarely let you know the reason why.

  12. This sounds very familiar to me…but I was on the other side of it. A buddy and I opened a comic shop in 1995…ran it for a couple years, and eventually gave up on it. I just couldn’t get it to match the image in my head. Seriously. We had this great thing set up in our minds, we would knock the tar out of the other LCS’s in town…people would think of us as the ‘Cheers’ of comic shops…but it just didn’t get down. But I am glad we tried, it was cool in it’s own way while it lasted.

    BTW…Good Luck to this new store! (I think you should suggest the beer idea to him…)

    • What were some of the obstacles you encountered (in terms of the reality not matching what you had imagined)? Were there any things you thought would be great and bring in business but just didn’t work? I imagine 1995 was a hard time to open a store and keep it running. Were you one of the many unfortunate comic shop casualties of the speculator crash, or were there other forces at play that led you to close your shop?

    • Our biggest obstacle was money. We were both just finishing up college, didn’t have much money, and couldn’t get a loan for much either. We took what we had, found a decent sized place in a strip mall, and went from there. Back then there was Diamond, Heroes World (for Marvel) and also a local distribution company where we could get all sorts of stuff (sports cards, toys, etc…). Orders were done with a pen and a packet we had to mail in each month!
      We pretty much spent all the money we had getting the initial orders in and the basic set up of the store done. So when it came time to really try to create our identity we didn’t have much left.
      When we opened there were probably about 8-10 other comic shops in town, when we closed there were half of that, and that’s being generous. THere are still two shops that I know of that are still open, and they were the first two that opened (that I know of). One is part of a larger company, the other a single owner that’s been there for probably nearly 40 years.
      We closed right before Marvel went bankrupt, so sales had declined for sure, but it’s still hard to say if we were part of the crash, or if we were just too small of a start up (probably a mix of both…we just couldn’t gain traction with returning customers so our monthly sales were like a roller coaster. That makes it real hard to manage when you order two months in advance).
      I still wonder if we could’ve hung on for a bit longer and found an online presence as the internet and sites like eBay really took off, maybe we could’ve made it into a long term project.
      As I said before, though, glad I did it, wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, but it was a tough go. Probably should”ve waited until I got more established in life, but then again, along come kids and that makes it harder to take a shot at something like your own retail business. Tough to say when the time is right for something like that in life, I guess.
      Hope I answered your questions. Thanks for asking.

  13. Great Article! I’ve created a perfect store in my head that my LCS doesn’t live up to. My LCS is incredibly geeky and tacky; almost to the point it seems like he wants to keep new people out. My shop isn’t even open on Wednesdays, and the 4 days a week it is open its from 5pm-9pm! It’s tiny and most costumers have no love for anything outside the Big 2.

    But its local, the owner is nice, and they have comics. Not life changing like your new store, but still a place I can get my books and talk for a few minutes with the owners.

  14. Im lucky enough to have an LCS across town 10 min drive. He deals mostly with preorders, but always has a good selection of new weekly books and graphic novels he thinks look interesting on the shelves, some back issues, and a few 50 cent boxes. He keeps his overhead low, and has been in business 20+ years. 2 towns over has a comic shop with ALL the new stuff and thousands (millions?) of back issues. It’s out of the way, but I try to hit it at least once a month. He’s also been around for a long time. It’s interesting to read about perfect shops, and what works, seems like a hard business. And Gabe, this second shop doesn’t serve beer, but it is right next door to a bar 🙂 I’m a lucky man.

  15. There was one comic shop owner who was really young and nice, I always wondered how he did it. One day I went to the store and found out he had passed away, his family left a note on the door. The place was always packed with neighborhood kids playing games. I was glad to get back into comics and the little shop helped inspire that. It wasn’t the best location or had the best design or products as the place down the street. It was the underdog of comic stores a true underdog comics store. I guess everyone needs a place to go and feel accepted. I always wondered if the comic shop owner knew before he opened the shop if he would die soon. He was living his life the way he wanted, having his own shop full of games, comics, toys, bringing joy to the neighborhood. The store’s sign remained up for a long time and when somebody put a business there it was sad to see the sign go.

  16. Yeah, it’s hard for any comic store to live up to our comic store fantasies I think. There are only 2 that I have been in that come close. And they are both about an hour away. I now get my pull list in a monthly shipment online. So much cheaper. I order enough comics to get free shipping, and all of my titles are 15% off. AND no sales tax. Can’t beat the prices. I just can’t believe the money I wasted at my local comic shop paying full price PLUS sales tax. And it was an old run down place downtown with bad customer service. And I always was given a dirty look when I would alter my pull list. I can do it all online now with no guilt if I want to change something. Kind of sad I had to resort to it, but I’m much happier now.

  17. In the 90s there were a ton of comic shops in my town, comics, action figures, beanie babies, baseball cards, Pokemon cards, and now I have to drive a half hour to the closest one. Still serviceable. Sad to see them go. On a side note, are baseball cards still a thing? Are my Derek Jeter rookie cards going to the stuff of retirement?