52Q | #57: Comic Shop First Look

Back by popular demand, Comic Book Daily asks the question and the crew (and special guests) give their answers. Tip of the hat goes to Scott VanderPloeg for this week’s question.

What do you look for, specifically or metaphysically, when you walk into a new-to-you comic shop?

Ed Campbell

To me, the most important part of a comic shop is the people. I don’t just mean the staff working at the store, but the customers at the store. To me a comic book shop is more than comics. You can get comics anywhere, whether it’s at a large chain book store, online retailer, or digitally (legally or illegally). A comic book shop is a community.

When I walk into a comic shop I want the staff to talk to me, they don’t even have to talk about comics, they can talk about anything. If the staff ignore me, or sit behind the counter and look like they’d rather do a million other things, I am not interested in shopping there. A comic book shop employee needs a real skill to know when and what to talk to the customers about. Myself, for example, like to talk about anything at the comic book shop, other customers may not enjoy “chit-chat” and just want to pick up their comic books and leave.

The community is my favourite part of collecting comics as a hobby. The people associated with your store makes a big difference on what type of store you have. In my opinion, a store that has a sense of community is a better store.

Shelley Smarz

I’m with Ed. It’s all about the people, more so than with other stores. If the person behind the counter’s a clueless a****** (or worse, a patronizing d***) I’m out and won’t return.

Scott VanderPloeg

Interesting how the first two respondents took the question as finding a new “home” to shop for comics.  When I wrote the question I was thinking of visiting a new city and seeking out the local comic shops, like we used to do before internet buying.

I check their graphic novel selection and look for any treasures: forgotten hardcovers, old graphic novels or early English translations of Bandes Desinee material.

Ed: I rarely visit other comic book shops.  I like supporting my local shop.  When I do visit another shop, I still take into consideration the sense of community within the store.

As far as looking for treasures, I just resort to the internet.  It’s easier to find exactly what I’m looking for.

Scott: So you don’t travel?  Never went to a comic shop in Toronto?

Ed: I rarely get a day off, let alone travel.  But yes, I have gone to a couple comic book shops in Toronto (and the outer GTA), but there are reasons I haven’t gone back and all of them have to do with the people working.  I find now with events like Fan Expo or Comic Con’s, why bother driving all over the place when I can go to one location and have the retaillers bring their product to me.  In that case if they have something I am looking for, and they know it’s back in their store they should go to the extra effort to let me know where the store is, or offer shipping it to me.

Shelley: A comic book store can have the best selection on the planet, but it’s the people who are there that make all the difference. There are certain stores and con booths that I will never frequent again simply because of the people behind the counter. On the flip side, there are also stores I will go out of my way to get to again because I had a fantastic experience.

When I travel, I’ll go out of my way to find and visit comic book stores. I judge these places by their selection (back issues and graphic novels), price, atmosphere and environment, and by how the staff treat me.

Greg Hyland

I look for how long it takes for any staff member to acknowledge that I’m in the store. If you can’t even look up and say hello, then clearly you are not interested in my money… or running a business at a professional level. There has been more than one store (TWO in the city I love in, by the way) I’ve walked out of completely for this.

To Scott’s comment: To answer it that way, if I’m in a new city, going to a comic store is pretty low on my list of things to do, unless I’m there for a signing (which rarely happens these days). If I do stumble upon a comic store, I might go in, but all I’ll really look for is toys I may have missed because my regular comic store does a pretty good job with holds for me, so I pretty much never look for books.

Daniel Champion

First I look at the store as a whole and If it’s not obvious where everything is (broadly speaking) I tend not to stay too long, simply because I don’t enjoy the digging… even if an impromptu ‘dig’ can sometimes reward. Then I look for any Signed books by artists whom may live in the area – and have visited the store on a signing/promotion.

Then (rightly or wrongly) I look for the graphic novels on my ‘to read’ list… this can often just add to the list but, that’s what I do.
Once I’ve got a handful of goodies, I look around for other nerds whom look like they want a chat – and sometimes I strike up a friendly debate about something or other.

If the books look like they’re well taken care of – and some effort has been put into the layout of the store… I’ll stay for a good while and give them my money.

If they ask my name for any reason I’ll go back… and tell my nerd friends about the store 🙂

Peter DeCourcy

As someone who ran a store for a number of years I think the thing I look for in comic book stores is an organized layout and a wide selection of stock. Customer service is important to me too; I can’t count the number of times I’ve entered a store and been ignored by someone behind a counter, but considering I’ve also probably ignored someone from behind the counter I usually give them leeway, because as much as everyone wants to think that working at a comic book store is just loafing around there are actually real duties that need to get done.

I’m a pretty social guy so I tend to start up conversations with people in comic stores. I’m sure I can get a bit annoying as I usually ask for recommendations (when you’re surrounded by comics all the time you can sometimes be pretty jaded and miss out on an amazing book just because of a Previews ad that didn’t appeal to you.)

Oh, I will say this: I hate it when stores are dirty. Instead of bad mouthing these stores I’d like to point people towards really great stores like Guelph’s The Dragon – which for my money is one of the most expertly laid out stores period – and – not to fellate my ex-employers but Big B Comics in Hamilton knows how to merchandise and get the most out of every inch of their stores.

Brent Chittenden

What I look for in a comic shop is pretty much what I look for in most places I shop:

  1. Friendly knowledgeable staff. Greeted at the door and then a bit later asked if there’s anything I’m looking for or perhaps a sale they’ve got going on. But it’s got to be the right balance, you do this too much or you’re too eager, then I just get annoyed.
  2. Cleanliness/Organization. I can not stand a store that’s cluttered or dirty. Friends of mine love a particular downtown store because the owner is “crazy” and he has a store cat… which translates into the store smells like cat pee… and I can’t understand why. If a store is organized by taking your Diamond shipment and dumping it into a corner and then next week continuing the process until your store is just littered with trades and comics and dvds in no particular order, that’s not a quaint thing, or interesting, it’s lazy and stupid. While I’m not saying I should be able to find anything I’m looking for instantly, there should by a rhyme and reason to your store’s layout. Put it this way, do you see Sears or Best Buy doing that (Boxing Day being the exception)? No and there are good solid commercial reasons behind it.
  3. Selection. The store has to have a great variety of comics. If it only has a few comics and a ton of dvds, I’m not really interested.

Peter: Has anyone stopped going to their long time comic shop because they felt that it wasn’t up to par anymore?

Kevin Boyd

When I walk into a shop I do it as Kevin the comic fan/reader and as Kevin the guy who works for an organization with an award for retailers, and those two fellows aren’t entirely on the same page about the comic shop experience. I won’t get into what the latter fellow looks for when he enters a Canadian comic shop (there’s a whole set of criteria), but the first guy — the fan/reader me looks for some similar things but is more interested in finding product that he wants to take home.

When I enter a shop I want it to

  1. be well lit (a dark store is hard on the eyes)
  2. be somewhat organized — that is, I can tell where the new releases are, the back issues are in order, and the graphic novels are browsable,
  3. have accessible comics product— if I have to bend or kneel or climb in order to look at the product I’m less inclined to bother, and if it’s under boxes and other crap forget about
  4. have knowledgeable staff (I don’t care if they are friendly)
  5. be able to take debit and/or credit if I do find something
  6. be priced! Last thing I want to do is guess about the cost and/or whether or not there are discounts or sales going on — signage and price stickers please!
  7. and finally, because I have asthma: have decent ventilation/air circulation and be dusted regularly.

Stanley Jon

I actually look for three things in a comic shop:

  • Do not make me feel like a criminal when I walk in.

A few comic shops I have been in forces you to leave your backpack/bag at the front counter.  I understand why they want people to this.  However, I am not comfortable leaving my bag lying around so I take out all my valuable stuff before leaving my bag at the front.

  • Do not nickel and dime me.

I hate it when comic shops have some spending floor before I can use a credit card to pay for a purchase.  If my purchase is below that amount, I have to pay a certain fee.  Again, I understand why they would do this but when your competitors do not have this policy, I will not be buying anything from your store.

  • Keep your promises.

If you say you can get some weird comic you never heard of for me, do it.  Do not keep telling me it is coming or you forgot to order it last week.

Whenever I am in a new city, I do not normally search out comic shops.  If I happen to come across a comic shop, I would go in to check out what they have in stock, back issue bins and any cool displays they have.

Scott: Charging for a credit or debit card transaction violates their merchant agreement with Interac and the credit card companies.

Anthony Falcone

And I was worried that I would be the lone harsh voice among my colleagues.

The first two things that I look for are a hello from staff and a clean store. It isn’t funny, or cute, or more legitimate if a store is a messy, stank dungeon. The bar is set so low for comic book stores that the things we look for are a given in many other retail establishments.

When you go into a jewelry store or auto showroom are you surprised that you are greeted and the place is clean? No. Because that is how companies do business.

Totally agree with Stanley, I would not simply hand over my bag. I am a grown ass man and have no intention of leaving my valuables. And at this time of year one often has a lot of other shopping for gifts and may have several bags. Not happening, makes customers feel like criminals. If you can’t watch your product properly you need to change your store layout or install cameras.

Also if you don’t have a debit or credit card machine or you tell people to go across the street to the bank machine, you are by definition a bad store. Remove your head from your posterior and act like a professional.

As to Pete’s question, I have changed local comic book stores 4 times due to them not being up to snuff, and 3 of those 4 shops are closed now.

The shop should be organized, items should be priced, staff should be clean, knowledgeable, friendly, and courteous, but these are all so obvious that it enrages me to need to mention it.

As for Scott’s take on the question, I normally like to see everything in the store and focus on what the shop does best. So if it is a good shop for trades I’ll pick from there, if it is all about silver age or $2 bins I’ll change my plan accordingly. If a shop is good there will almost always be something for me to find.

Chris Howard
Have to agree on the overall first impression. If I have to go into a basement and the light in the stairwell has gone, I’ll not be shopping for long. I look for many of the same things as others, clean well organized store. Staff that are similar. A variety of product. When I discover a new store, I want to see things I don’t see at my LCS. I was in Waterloo recently and picked up a book I’d heard of but never seen. Impulse buy. I also always look for local small press type stuff and will usually buy it on principle.

I have over the years had many regular stores, sometimes by necessity, (during school etc) but recently the store I was shopping at wasn’t doing it for me and I found one that could. Happy to say the old store has moved and improved greatly, but now I established in my new store. But I have made purchases at the old store for reasons listed above.

Bottom line, if I feel like I need hand sanitizer, you are doing something wrong.

Comic Book Daily, discussing the minutiae of comic book collecting. Thanks for stopping by; if you like what you read please take a moment and have a look around.

Subscribe to CBD via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts by email.

3 Comments

  1. December 2, 2011

    Oh nice shot of Little Island Comics, now there’s a new store I want to visit again. Actually I want to visit twice, once with my son and once alone so I can browse.

  2. Laura
    December 2, 2011

    I felt like sitting this one out and reading all the comments. I didn’t think I could give a proper answer through the eyes of a shopper.

    But like Scott’s original intention with the question was visiting shops you hadn’t been to for the fun of going, not looking for a new regular store intended (I think), I personally love checking out new shops and seeing what other stores have to offer.

    For me, a comic store should be no different than any other kind of retail store. Why some places feel they can get away with poor lighting, haphazardly displayed product, and dust an inch think is beyond me. I wouldn’t walk into a say, La Senza and assume that a dungey pit is an okay way to run a store.

    First impressions I want

    1. Well Lit. This should be a given, especially with the stereotype that stores should be trying to break

    2a. Lots of product. I have been into several stores where it looks like they must have been robbed during the night! No shelves on the sales floor and empty showcases with almost zero product. It’s creepy

    2b. Not too much product! If you need to leave your stuff in piles or outside (I’ve seen it), I can’t browse.

    3. Friendly staff who don’t look like they haven’t bathed in a week. You’re in customer service, act and look like it. I don’t expect designer duds and supermodels, but I do expect to see someone who has had a shower.

    4. Variety of product. I love the feeling of going to a new store and seeing products I may have never even heard of before.

    5. It should be like going to any other retail store.

  3. Ed Campbell
    December 2, 2011

    I lived in Calgary 10 years ago. My favourite comic book shop there was in an older building. The lighting was terrible. The store had that smell of old books. Sometimes you felt like you had to wash your hands after flipping through the back issues.

    Even with all these negatives against it that would deter walk in traffic, it was still my favourite shop to go into. By comparison of population, Calgary has a lot of comic book shops. I went to every shop in town, but after a while I just would only return to my favourite one. Sometimes I would stop in 3 times a week.

    The reason it became my favourite was because of the people who worked there, and the clientele that frequented the store.

Make It Good.