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For years I’ve imagined running my own comic book store. I’ve dreamed of it, even planned; sometimes I scope out locations while driving around town. I’m sure lots of fans have similar fantasies, but unlike everyone else, I would run the best comic shop ever. Not only would it be the best, it would be the most unique shopping experience. It would be perfect.
Of course, reality would be significantly different, and probably far less impressive. I mean, I’m fairly confident I could make a better store than the guy from The Simpsons. But how would I really make it stand out? When I sit down and think about it, I don’t understand how anyone would think it’s a good idea to open up a store.
Here in Los Angeles, like in a lot of major cities, we’re pretty spoiled. There’s no shortage of truly exceptional stores, whether you’re in the Valley, in Hollywood or on the Westside. And if you want that old, crummy comic dungeon of yore, there are a few of those as well. The Westside might not be quite as saturated, but L.A. is generally well-covered, which means there might not be room for a new store. Invariably, I would be stepping on someone’s territory. A store here would either create bad blood with the nearest specialty shops and their patrons, or it would really have to go in a different direction and appeal to a neglected or untapped demographic. That’s certainly possible. On the other hand, L.A .rent is notoriously high.
So the alternative would be to move out of L.A. for less competition and lower rent. Maybe head north a little. Maybe Santa Barbara, or even up the central coast. They seem pretty neglected, according to CBR’s handy-dandy FindAComicShop.com. The risk there, though, is it might require more educating and advertising for people who might not be used to buying comics. There are still people who don’t realize comic books are even still being made. Those that do might already get their books delivered from an online mail order-service like DCBS, or through Amazon, or might have switched to a digital comics provider like comiXology.
Hm. OK, I’ll figure out the location later. What kind of store would I have? General comic book stores are a dime a dozen. If it’s going to be the greatest ever, it needs to really stand out. It could be like Bergen Street Comics and focus more on smaller publishers and indie books. I really like this idea, but starting out new, do I really want to turn away money from people looking for comics with some of the most recognizable characters on the planet? It could be like Little Island Comics and be just for kids. This idea really makes me happy, but then I think of dealing with crazy parents dumping their kids off as if the store were a daycare, or an angry parent screaming at me because little Billy dipped himself in purple paint after reading a Smurfs comic. It could be more like an indie bookstore and focus on graphic novels, just like … uh … some store that surely must be out there somewhere. But then there’s a month like January, where graphic-novel sales drop more that 14 percent in the direct market, and it sounds like an absolutely terrifying strategy.
From what I’ve heard, most comic book stores survive on a thin profit margin (if things are going well). So if I’m going to go the specialized niche-within-a-niche strategy, maybe the store should have something else “comics adjacent” to help with income, something to bring in potential customers who are apt to like comics but just don’t know it yet. Toys, T-shirts and other merchandise are probably smart, but would that be enough to supplement actual comic sales? I could rent or sell video games. They’re big money-makers, right? Except I haven’t really kept up with them since I couldn’t beat Marble Madness. I could rent and/or sell DVDs and Blu-ray, with a focus on movies and TV shows based on comics. When I was in high school, I worked at Blockbuster, so I’m totally qualified. What could go wrong there? Yeah, bad idea. I might as well sell CDs. If I go with the graphic novel/indie bookstore angle, I could sell books. Like, non-comic books. Then I’d have competition from two different types of stores. Hrm. An ice cream bar?
If I ever figure that part out, how will the comics be organized ? The layout can make or break a store. I’ve seen people swear off stores because they disagreed with how their new releases section was organized. My preference would be by genre, very similar to a book store: fiction and nonfiction, then split up from there. None of this nonsense of sorting by publisher. I’d even be tempted to sort by authors and creators. I know some stores do that, but it’s usually halfhearted with a Grant Morrison section and an Alan Moore section, and then the rest of the store alphabetical by publisher or alphabetical by everything.
The design of the store is also crucial. I would absolutely love something like Tokyo’s Tokyo, which has shelving custom-made to resemble comic book pages and panels. I also love how open and bright that store feels. It’s too easy for stores to get cluttered from filling every square inch with something that can be sold. But where’s the balance? A store isn’t supposed to be a complete representation of every Diamond Comic Distributors catalog.
And that gets to perhaps the hardest part: ordering. I know what I like. I know what’s popular. I know what I’d like to be popular. In the end, the stores customers define what the store orders and sells. That takes listening and time. But what if I hate my customers’ taste? Shouldn’t the store’s personality also define what is sold, and present itself as a taste-maker?
Oh, forget it! This is too hard. I’m going to go back to re-sorting my bookshelves.
Comic book retailers have hard jobs. From a comic fan’s perspective, it feels like all they do is sell their comic book collection, but the real retailers do so much more. They’re part mathematician, part interior decorator, part statistician, part pop culture expert, part psychic. I might be qualified to do half of one of those things.